Coastal projects face budget ax
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will face a 5 percent budget cut in the current and upcoming fiscal years. The Times-Picayune reports that the cuts will affect funding for several nonprofits, businesses, landowners and local governments who partner with the state through its Conservation and Restoration Partnership Fund. The cut also means financial assistance to local levee authorities will not be available in 2016.
“Clearly, Louisiana is facing a short-term budgetary crisis, but CPRA is tackling a much more serious long-term crisis,” said a statement released late Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “If we lose the fight against the forces of coastal erosion, we lose our homes, our coastal towns and cities, our jobs, and we devastate our local and national economy. We are in the very early stages of developing the long-term strategies we’ll need to fund the plan – and we have a long way to go. In the meantime, cutting CPRA’s program support is short-sighted and ill-advised.”
ACA enrollment continues to grow
More than 137,000 Louisianans have enrolled in health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. The Times-Picayune reports that during the first month of open enrollment, 91 percent of those seeking coverage were eligible for federal tax credits to help offset the cost. Open enrollment ends midnight February 15.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a 40-year-old non-smoker with a $30,000 annual income in Louisiana can expect to pay $114 a month for a bronze plan under the Affordable Care Act, up from $106 a month in 2014, when the subsidy is included. HHS estimates more than 250,000 Louisiana residents would have qualified for the law’s expanded Medicaid eligibility rules, but state officials, led by Gov. Bobby Jindal, have declined to participate.
Kristof: Obama should have focused on early childhood
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof came away impressed with President Obama’s State of the Union speech, particularly the call for paid maternity leave child-care subsidies, but wishes there had been a focus on policies that benefit the youngest children.
Oddly, Obama didn’t push early-childhood initiatives, focused on kids from newborns to 5 years old, that have a particularly strong evidence base for creating opportunity. Early-education initiatives poll well, and some of the leaders in programming have been red states like Oklahoma. So while the Obama agenda is mostly for show, expansion of preschool could actually occur at least at the state level.
Business tax reform may be an easier lift
At a forum hosted by the Brookings Institution, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew suggested that lawmakers should focus on simplifying taxes paid by businesses rather than on lowering the top income tax rate paid by individuals. As reported by the AP, Lew feels there may be areas of consensus among Democrats and Republicans when it comes to business tax reform.
Obama released a framework for business tax reform in 2012. In it, he called for lowering the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent — the highest in the industrialized world — to 28 percent. Obama would finance the cut by eliminating dozens of targeted tax breaks for corporations. The corporate income tax, however, only affects a small percentage of American businesses. More than 30 million tax returns a year report business income. But in 2013, only 2.2 million were traditional corporations that paid the corporate income tax. The overwhelming majority were sole proprietorships, partnerships and other corporations in which the owners report their business income on their individual tax returns. These businesses, known as pass-throughs, would not benefit from a cut in the corporate income tax rate. Lew said Obama’s plan would help these businesses in other ways, such as easing accounting rules and enabling them to more quickly write off business expenses.
Number of the Day
$123,618,037 – Reserve-fund balance in the state Office of Group Benefits at the end of December, after the health plan for state employees and retirees lost $36.1 million that month. The fund had nearly $500 million at its 2011 peak. (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office)