Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Advocate: College cuts put a damper on economic future; Budget bills nearing final passage; Auditor says proposed changes won’t save state employee health plan; New York Times: End mass incarceration now; and John Maginnis, 1948-2014. $4.5 million – Louisiana’s financial contribution to IndyCar, which plans to start racing in New Orleans next year. (Source: Associated Press)

Advocate: College cuts put a damper on economic future
Louisiana’s steep cuts to higher education – second-worst in the country, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – were the basis of the Advocate’s lead Sunday editorial.

“Adjusted for inflation, between 2008 and 2014, Louisiana cut state support per student by 43 percent. Obviously, hard times hurt all over the country, but only Arizona cut more than Louisiana on a percentage basis, the new report said.”

Also cited was a recent blog by LBP policy analyst Steve Spires, who noted that the budget cuts have been paired with sharp tuition increases, but that Louisiana is now falling behind its neighboring states which have started to reinvest in educational opportunities for their people.

“’What makes the data so concerning is that there is a strong relationship between the share of a state’s workforce with a bachelor’s degree and median wages — far stronger than any correlation between wages and tax rates or abstract ‘business climate’ rankings,’ Spires said. ’Louisiana has one of the lowest levels of college attainment in the nation, and this is a major reason we are the third-poorest state.’ Indeed it is, and the post-2008 reversal of a quarter-century trend of increasing support for higher education is one of the reasons why long-term prospects for Louisiana’s economy are not as bright as we would like them to be.”

Budget bills nearing final passage
The Senate Finance Committee spent its Memorial Day weekend in traditional fashion – debating and amending the various bills that together comprise the state budget. Lawmakers made hundreds of changes to the bills, filling holes and moving money around between priorities with the help of newly recognized dollars from the Revenue Estimating Conference. The committee made hundreds of changes, including undoing much of the work done by the House. But the exercise is likely to be best remembered for this memorable exchange between Sen. Dan Claitor and committee chair Jack Donahue:

Claitor objected to removing dollars the House had added to health care services and pouring $4.5 million into covering Louisiana’s commitment to IndyCar, which plans to start racing in New Orleans next year. “We’re taking money away from the disabled community and giving it to motor sports?” Claitor asked. “The answer to your question, Sen. Claitor, is yes,” Donahue replied. Funding for disabled services still is slated to increase by $26 million next year, but larger increases added by the House were removed.

The AP’s Melinda Deslatte also has a helpful overview of the weekend’s action and what issues must be resolved before lawmakers adjourn by 6 p.m. on Monday.

Auditor says proposed changes won’t save state employee health plan
Changes proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to the state employee health plan won’t be enough to stop the financial hemorrhaging that has left it on the brink of insolvency, according to an audit released Monday. The Office of Group Benefits, which covers 250,000 current and retired state workers, has been running a monthly deficit of $17 million and is rapidly burning through its reserves. As a result, a bank account that had more than $500 million a few years ago could be down to $55 million by the end of the year and could be empty by next April. To stop the bleeding, the Jindal administration recently laid out a series of changes that include higher premiums and increased reliance on generic drugs over costlier name-brand medicines. But those changes would only bring the monthly deficit to $10 million. That means the health plan is still on track to bankruptcy unless more changes are made, which will almost certainly involve higher costs to the state.

New York Times: End mass incarceration now
The paper of record says America’s four-decade experiment with mass incarceration – with Louisiana leading the way – has had disastrous consequences and needs to end.

“The severity is evident in the devastation wrought on America’s poorest and least educated, destroying neighborhoods and families. From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with fathers in prison rose from 350,000 to 2.1 million. Since race and poverty overlap so significantly, the weight of our criminal justice experiment continues to fall overwhelmingly on communities of color, and particularly on young black men.

“After prison, people are sent back to the impoverished places they came from, but are blocked from re-entering society. Often they cannot vote, get jobs, or receive public benefits like subsidized housing — all of which would improve their odds of staying out of trouble. This web of collateral consequences has created what the National Academy of Sciences report calls ‘a highly distinct political and legal universe for a large segment of the U.S. population.’”

John Maginnis, 1948-2014
There isn’t much the Daily Dime can add to the many wonderful tributes written the past several days about John Maginnis, the dean of Louisiana political reporters who died Sunday morning at 66. But there might not be a Daily Dime were it not for Maginnis, whose concise writing style was an early inspiration for our experiment in daily publishing. John had many talents, but among his greatest was an ability to boil down complex information into clear, declarative sentences. His columns and newsletters were must-reads for anyone who cares about Louisiana government and politics. He made it look easy, and did so without any of the anger and cynicism that characterizes so much of our policy discourse.

As Robert Mann put it on Nola.com, “I always thought his most attractive quality was that he never allowed cynicism to creep into his writing and analysis.  Clear-eyed skepticism, yes. Cynicism, never.”

May he rest in peace.

$4.5 million – Louisiana’s financial contribution to IndyCar, which plans to start racing in New Orleans next year. (Source: Associated Press)