Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Governor’s office spared from midyear cuts; Coastal fund at risk for further raids; Home visit program set to expire; and The Geography of Opportunity

Governor’s office spared from midyear cuts

Higher education may be spared the knife in the second round of $103 million in mid-year budget cuts that are coming next week, but elected officials, including the lieutenant governor, secretary of state and commissioner of agriculture, are taking it on the chin. Melinda Deslatte of The Associated Press reports:


Departments overseen by the lieutenant governor, treasurer, insurance commissioner and agriculture commissioner are slated to take hits of 3 to 4 percent, more than nearly all departments managed by Jindal’s cabinet secretaries.


Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain called the cuts “unfair” and said they would threaten officials constitutional duties, while Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne – who oversees the state’s tourism industry – is laying off 111 employees, shortening hours at historic sites and closing state parks. But one department was spared.


The governor’s office will come through the $61 million in slashing largely unscathed, taking a reduction of $10,000 – less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its budget.


Coastal fund at risk for further raids

Diverting money from dedicated state trust funds to pay for general operating expenses has been a key part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s strategy for dealing with Louisiana’s structural budget deficit in recent years.  But not all funds are created equal, says the Times-Picayune in an editorial urging the governor to not raid funds dedicated to coastal restoration.


As the Public Affairs Research Council pointed out Tuesday, the budget line signals that the administration is planning to take money out of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund to use for operating expenses. “This action appears on paper to be an agency budget reduction but is, in fact, a fund raid,” PAR said. Even though the amount is relatively small, “it is significant because it breaks the state’s practice of truly protecting the Coastal Fund from diversions that boost the state general operating budget. The fund sweep would demonstrate that Louisiana is now willing to cross the line to misspend precious, dedicated coastal resources when the budget-going gets tough.” That would set a terrible precedent, and Gov. Bobby Jindal shouldn’t do it…Not only would it open the way for future budget raids on money that is vital to restoring our coast, it could give the federal government an excuse to withhold help.


Home visit program set to expire

It is rarer than it should be for a federal or state program to be evaluated for effectiveness. One that has been–and passed with shining colors–is home visits for at-risk mothers and infants. But unless Congress acts by March 31, that proven program will expire, according to Ife Floyd at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program funds programs through which trained professionals — often nurses, social workers, or specialists in early childhood development— help parents acquire the skills to promote their children’s development. More specifically, MIECHV works to improve maternal and newborn health, prevent child injuries and abuse, help children succeed in school, reduce crime and domestic violence, and make families more economically self-sufficient.  Research shows that it helps keep children out of the social welfare, mental health, and juvenile corrections systems, with considerable cost savings for states.


The Geography of Opportunity
A new report from the Kirwan Institute and the Greater New Orleans Foundation maps the “geography of opportunity” in the New Orleans-Baton Rouge “super region.” Unfortunately, the findings aren’t surprising.


Individuals living in opportunity-rich neighborhoods have access to good schools, parks, grocery stores, jobs, health care, and transportation. Conversely, people living in low-opportunity neighborhoods are marginalized and isolated with little or no access to reliable transportation and quality education in their neighborhoods, two of the most important factors for getting out of poverty. As the report revealed, the isolation from opportunity is more pronounced in communities of color.


Number of the Day

$10,000 – Portion of $61 million in mid-year agency cuts that falls on the governor’s office (Source: Associated Press)