Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Budget forecast grows, but not as much as administration prefers; Financial woes continue to haunt higher education; Here are two more reasons health care costs far too much; and State contracts bill moves forward. $4 million – Amount left in the “overcollections” fund, as of Monday, to pay expenses for state colleges and universities through the end of the fiscal year. That’s $56 million less than needed. (Source: La Politics)

Budget forecast grows, but not as much as administration prefers
Legislators got an extra $65 million to spend in the upcoming fiscal year thanks to a slight uptick in the state’s revenue forecast. But as the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, the revenue boost was $54 million less than sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, which wanted to include tax revenue the state expects to collect through more robust collection efforts.

Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield told the Revenue Estimating Conference that an outside consulting firm hired by the Jindal administration identified ways for his agency to bolster tax collection efforts and bring in more money for the state treasury. But some members of the conference, which decides how much money state lawmakers and the governor have to spend each year, refused to consider the enhanced collection efforts in the forecast for the 2014-15 fiscal year. They said there’s no way to know if those dollars would appear. ‘We have numbers here that we really have no historical precedent for,’ conference member and LSU economist Jim Richardson said.”

Financial woes continue to haunt higher education
This hasn’t been a good year for higher education in Louisiana, with multiple reports finding that the governor and Legislature have cut support for colleges and universities more than any other state. Now there are two reports that show the short-term and (potential) long-term consequences of those decisions. The short-term fallout was reported by LaPolitics.com, where Jeremy Alford revealed that colleges are facing another cash-flow shortage and may need to borrow money from the state treasury to make it through the end of the fiscal year.

It would mark the third time in as many months that the governor would need “seed” funding to keep the lights on at campuses around the state.

“The account that the administration uses to provide higher education with monthly cash-flow payments, known as the overcollections fund, had a balance of only $4 million in it as of Monday morning. June payments of $60 million overall could be requested by colleges and universities as early as this week. If the money falls short, then the administration may have to make a loan request on behalf of higher education officials.”

Even if the state survives its short-term cash crunch, there remains the long-term problem of keeping strong educational programs from getting weaker or disappearing altogether, which is what sometimes happens when you eliminate more than 1,000 faculty positions over five years. And here we have a report by Nola.com’s Julia O’Donoghue that says LSU’s petroleum engineering program could have its accreditation threatened because the school doesn’t have enough faculty to teach the students enrolled in the program. You read that right: The flagship university in the petroleum state of Louisiana could lose its petroleum engineering program if it doesn’t get money to hire more faculty members.

Here are two more reasons health care costs far too much
From the New York Times comes two more stories that help explain why Americans pay more than any other country for health care — as a percentage of the economy — for results that are middling at best. First up is Elizabeth Bumiller’s look at who makes the really big money in the health care system. It’s not well-paid doctors, who do just fine. It’s the people who run hospitals and insurance companies, the CEOs and senior vice presidents who don’t provide any actual health care yet often take home salaries and bonuses that are many times above what the doctors they supervise earn. Per-capita spending on “health insurance administration” is $606 in America, compared to $277 in France and $148 across the border in Canada.

Next up is an op-ed from two Harvard University researchers who’ve been trying — without success — to get funding for a study to test their theory that a regular aspirin regimen can cut the risk of dying from breast cancer in half.  “In 2010, we published an observational study in The Journal of Clinical Oncology showing that women with breast cancer who took aspirin at least once a week for various reasons were 50 percent less likely to die of breast cancer.

“In 2012, British researchers, by combining results from clinical trials that looked at using aspirin to prevent heart disease, found that aspirin was also associated with a significantly lower risk of breast cancer death. And yet, until now, there have been no randomized trials (the gold standard of research) of aspirin use among women with breast cancer. It’s not hard to see why: Clinical trials are typically conducted on drugs developed by labs seeking huge profits. No one stands to make money off aspirin, which has been a generic drug since the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and which costs less than $6 for a year’s supply.”

A government that refuses to finance a study on whether a $6 a year aspirin can save the lives of 10,000 American women each year is one that’s doomed to pay too much for health care for the foreseeable future.

State contracts bill moves forward
The fourth time could be a charm for Rep. Dee Richard, who’s been trying unsuccessfully for years to get legislation passed that would cut the number of state consulting contracts. On Monday his legislation made it out of the Senate Finance Committee, its traditional graveyard, after amendments were tacked on that lets the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee review any contracts above $40,000. Richard, I-Thibodaux, and Treasurer John Kennedy have long maintained that the state hires too many consultants, and says the easiest way for the state to save money is to eliminate some of the 19,000 contracts sprinkled throughout state agencies.

The bill now heads to the Senate and, if approved, back to the House for concurrence. But it still faces a possible veto from Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose chief budget aide spoke against it in committee.

$4 million – Amount left in the “overcollections” fund, as of Monday, to pay expenses for state colleges and universities through the end of the fiscal year. That’s $56 million less than needed. (Source: La Politics)