Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Louisiana’s economic growth below average; Payday loan debate moves to federal arena; Louisiana Community and Technical College Board approves tuition increase; New data collection on TOPS recipients; and New healthcare subsidies proposed.  $47,997 — Louisiana per-capita gross domestic product. (Source: Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis via Shreveport Times )

Louisiana’s economic growth below average
Louisiana’s economy grew 1.3 percent in 2013, ranking the Pelican State 34th in the country, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The numbers show Louisiana’s economy is growing slower than many of its neighbors and the country as a whole, which expanded by 1.8 percent last year, and seem to undermine Gov. Bobby Jindal’s claims that Louisiana is outpacing the country. “Federal figures show the biggest contributor to growth in Louisiana last year came from makers of nondurable goods, including oil and chemical refiners. But mining, including oil and gas extraction, was the biggest drag on the state’s $254 billion economy.”

Payday loan debate moves to federal arena
The head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be in New Orleans today for a field hearing about mobile banking. But director Richard Cordray also plans to meet privately with a group of consumer advocates, including the Louisiana Budget Project and Together Louisiana, to discuss payday lending and other topics. The meeting comes after a series of reform measures failed to gain traction at the state Capitol, where predatory lenders hired a small army of lobbyists to beat back bills that would have capped the interest rates on short-term loans and restricted the number of loans that borrowers could take out in a 12-month period.

In an afternoon news conference, leaders with Together Louisiana outlined several proposed reforms that could be made at the federal level, including a prohibition on lending to anyone who’s been in debt with payday loans for more than 90 days in a 12-month period.

Louisiana Community and Technical College Board approves tuition increase
Louisiana community and technical college students could see a 10 percent increase in tuition and fees if the state Board of Regents signs off on a proposal from the system’s board. “The money generated from tuition increases would be used to expand programs devoted to high-demand job fields like construction, industrial maintenance and production technology, said Monty Sullivan, president of Louisiana’s community and technical college system. Board documents said some of the funding would also be used to cover maintenance costs.” If approved by the Regents, the tuition hike could generate an additional $14.1 million in revenue for the community and technical college system.

Though colleges and universities did not see a dramatic budget cut this legislative session, as they have in previous years, Louisiana’s investment in higher education has lagged the nation, leading to fewer professors, less research and a growing backlog of maintenance needs.

New data collection on TOPS recipients
The state will now collect additional data on students receiving scholarships through the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, including race, gender, parents’ household income, SAT and ACT scores as well as grade point averages. Some see the move as a step toward finally limiting the cost of the program, which is estimated at $387 million by the 2018-19 school year. As in previous years, lawmakers had opportunities to curb the cost of the program this legislative session but lacked the appetite.

New healthcare subsidies proposed
Insurance companies are asking the federal government to expand access to “catastrophic” health insurance plans — those with low premiums designed as a bare-bones safety net for healthy people. Currently, such plans are only available to people younger than 30 and those with a hardship exemption, and are not currently eligible for government subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade industry group, has proposed changes to the law that would allow people of any age to purchase catastrophic plans, make them eligible for tax credits and limit out-of-pocket expenses.

It is unclear how the proposed changes will be received on Capitol Hill, but some consumer groups have criticized catastrophic plans because of limits in coverage and high out-of-pocket expenses when care is needed.

 $47,997 — Louisiana per-capita gross domestic product. (Source: Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis via Shreveport Times )