Louisiana’s debt hits a new high
Louisiana’s per-capita debt load rose to a new high of $1,545 this year, the Associated Press reports, topping the previous record of $1,369 set in 2007 during Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration. The debt load, which has increased by 30 percent since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in 2008, grows as the state borrows money through bond sales to finance construction projects and economic development initiatives. Louisiana now ranks as the nation’s 17th most indebted state, according to Lamont Financial Services, and that ranking is expected to rise because the state borrowed more money in recent months. While the debt load is well below the state’s debt ceiling (which is the legal amount of money the state can borrow), Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy says the state should be cautious about borrowing more since additional funding is not set aside for repaying the debt each year.
Stephanie Grace: Vitter signals shift towards pragmatism
The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace writes that Sen. David Vitter’s willingness to consider Medicaid expansion marks “a genuine turning point” in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Grace writes, “Make no mistake, Vitter didn’t endorse the Medicaid expansion in his address Monday to the Press Club of Baton Rouge. Nor did he say a kind word about President Barack Obama’s vast health care revamp… What Vitter did say was this: ‘We need to improve and reform Medicaid, and I want to look at everything that could be brought to bear to do that. Now, could more federal resources help to do that? They could, if it’s done right and if it’s done in a constructive way.’… That Vitter too is ready to have this discussion is huge. It suggests that, contrary to his assertion Monday that he’s still doing his homework on state issues, he understands perfectly the financial picture he’d inherit if elected.”
Most health exchange customers weren’t previously covered
Roughly 60 percent of customers who bought health coverage through online insurance marketplaces were previously uninsured, according to a survey by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey also found that 34 percent of enrollees say they have benefited from the law, often citing lower costs or better access to care, while 29 percent said they were negatively affected. More than 70 percent of enrollees rate their coverage as excellent or good, while 55 percent said it is an excellent or good value for what they pay and 39 percent reporting it as an “only fair” or “poor” value.
Gov. Bobby Jindal signs WISE legislation
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation on Tuesday that will create the $40 million Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) Fund, which allows schools to compete for funding for degree and certificate programs in high-demand fields like computer science and engineering. Schools must match WISE Fund dollars with a 20 percent private match from a business partner. The WISE Fund is welcome news after years of deep budget cuts in higher education. Louisiana cut state support by $5,000 per student since 2008, more than any other state, and there are 1,001 fewer faculty members across the state than in 2008. Additionally, Louisiana is devoting $100 million less annually to classroom instruction than in 2008, $33 million less to research, and $36 million less to maintenance. Meanwhile, students are being asked to pay more for less. Average tuition is up 52 percent at Louisiana’s 4-year universities since 2008, the eighth-highest percentage increase in the nation.
Louisiana ranks poorly in long-term care
AARP ranks Louisiana 37th in the nation in meeting the long-term care needs of seniors and adults with disabilities. The findings are according to a new, comprehensive state-by-state Scorecard from AARP. Louisiana ranks 51st in the nation (including the District of Columbia) for placing seniors in the most appropriate settings, 41st in quality of life indicators, and 28th in the percentage of Medicaid long-term care dollars used to provide seniors and disabled adults with home and community-based care. AARP Louisiana’s Director of Advocacy, Andrew Muhl, told The Advocate that more must be done, and at an accelerated pace, to change state policies so these issues can be addressed.
Louisiana also ranks poorly in gun-related deaths
Louisianans were more likely to die from firearms than residents of any other state in 2011, according to a new report by the Violence Policy Center. Almost 19 in 100,000 state residents died from gun violence, putting the Pelican State right above Mississippi (17.8), Alaska (17.4), Wyoming (16.9) and Montana (16.7). The report notes that Louisiana has one of the strongest gun-rights laws in the nation after voters approved a state constitutional amendment making gun ownership a “fundamental” right. The five states with the lowest rates of gun-related deaths are Rhode Island (3.1), Hawaii (3.6), Massachusetts (3.8), New York (5.1) and New Jersey (5.5).