Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Consultants outline $2.7 billion in potential savings; Bill puts BP claims at risk; Louisiana one of worst in nation for higher education budget cuts; Housing crisis a continuing problem for Americans; and Legislature: What passed and what failed. 48 – Number of states spending less on higher education than before the recession on a per-student basis. (Source:  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

Consultants outline $2.7 billion in potential savings
Just in time for the Legislature to do nothing about it, the state’s $5 million consulting team delivered its recommendations on Monday for how Louisiana can become more efficient in the years ahead. The Advocate reviewed the plan by Alvarez & Marsal and found some familiar ideas, such as selling state property, raising health care premiums for current and retired state workers, and hiring auditors to collecting delinquent tax claims and providing more home-care services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

“I am so proud of this report. These are real, common-sense solutions that will not only save money for the people of Louisiana, but will improve the way we operate,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a prepared statement. Nichols is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top budget adviser.

Bill puts BP claims at risk
Louisiana’s suit against BP for economic damages related to the 2010 oil spill is still pending in federal court, and it’s unclear how much money, if any, the state could collect once it’s settled. But that didn’t stop legislators from dividing up the lucre as part of their budget deliberations. Language added to a budget bill in the waning days of the session would steer up to $700 million into a state fund that funds payments to nursing homes, with other dollars going into the Rainy Day Fund and home-care services.

Now comes news that a separate bill – Senate Bill 469, which seeks to wipe out the suit against oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East – could have the unintended side effect of killing the state’s damage lawsuit and other spill-related claims made by local authorities. As two law professors wrote in Wednesday’s Advocate:

“Gov. Jindal says he believes SB469 cannot harm his state’s claims against BP because most of them are made under the Oil Pollution Act. He says OPA, a federal law, will always pre-empt SB469, a state law. Clearly, many of our colleagues disagree with him. And so do attorneys for 11 of Louisiana’s coastal parishes, who’ve just recently argued in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that federal law does NOT pre-empt state law in the Deepwater Horizon case.

“Knowing that lawyers disagree on these issues, how can the governor know that a court will interpret SB469 the way he does and not some other way? Is he willing to gamble billions of dollars of his state’s claims on it?”

Louisiana one of worst in nation for higher education budget cuts
Even though Louisiana has cut higher education more than any other state since 2008, college leaders lathered praise on the Legislature for not making things worse in the just-concluded lawmaking session, The Advocate reports.

“University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley hailed it as “the most successful legislative session our universities have seen in many years” in a statement today. “Not only do our schools have stable funding for FY 2015, but also our legislators unanimously voted to strategically invest in growth and innovation through the WISE Fund.  If we are able to sustain and build on this effort in future years,  we will look back to this day as the starting point of a revitalization of Louisiana in which there is alignment between our work in higher education and our collective ambition to achieve a nationally competitive economy.”

Housing crisis a continuing problem for Americans
More than half of American adults have had to make at least one sacrifice over the past three years in order to make their rent or mortgage, according to a recent survey by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Hart Research Associates.

“Such sacrifices included getting an additional job, deferring saving for retirement, cutting back on health care and healthy foods, running up credit card debt, or moving to a less safe neighborhood or one with worse schools.

The survey found that 70 percent of adults think we are still in the midst of the housing crisis or that the worst is yet to come.

Legislature: What passed and what failed
The Associated Press has a helpful roundup of the just-concluded legislative session, with a broad breakdown of the bills that passed and failed during the three-month lawmaking period.

48 – Number of states spending less on higher education than before the recession on a per-student basis. (Source:  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)