Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lights out at the NICU?; Anti-revenue ‘pledge’ sees legislative pushback; Students want a voice in higher education; and BESE bucks Jindal on MFP


Lights out at the NICU?

Back when Edwin Edwards was governor, according to political lore, he would sometimes threaten to “turn off the dialysis machines” if the Legislature refused to go along with his revenue-raising plans. While the dialysis machines appear safe in next year’s budget, the same might not be true for hospital intensive-care units that care for the sickest newborns. So says the Louisiana Hospital Association, disputing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s claim that his budget plan calls for no rate cuts to private health care providers. The trade group says the budget includes $25 million in cuts, affecting some of the most vulnerable patients. As The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:


Targeted for elimination by Jindal is a program that pays hospitals for the care of premature, low-birth-weight babies. The governor also proposes to pay a lower reimbursement rate for Medicaid patients who go to emergency rooms with nonemergency medical needs — a proposal that lawmakers rejected from the Jindal administration last year. State Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert defended the governor’s plan. “Our responsibility as we build the budget is to look at the big picture of all programs and make sure we’re keeping critical services intact,” she said.


Anti-revenue ‘pledge’ sees legislative pushback

Much has been made recently of the “pledge” signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal refusing to raise revenues to help the state deal with its budget problems. The “pledge” is the work of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington lobbying group, and the governor takes it so seriously that he sought the group’s blessing before releasing his budget recommendations. But as’s Julie O’Donoghue reports, Jindal isn’t the only Louisiana politico who’s signed the ATR pledge. Thirty-two elected officials have signed it, including more than two dozen sitting legislators. But some of them are now having second thoughts. They include Rep. Steve Carter of Baton Rouge, the chairman of the House Education Committee, and Sen. Fred Mills of New Iberia, a leader on health-care issues.


Many legislators, including those who have signed the same national pledge, have embraced a more flexible interpretation of their commitment to not raise taxes. Several want to look at a broader menu of tax credit adjustments, including those the Americans for Tax Reform might say shouldn’t be touched.  “I don’t know if I believe that if you rein in the tax credits on motion pictures, that that’s a tax increase,” said state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, who is head of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees state spending. Donahue has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, though the group might not support adjustments to Louisiana’s film tax credit program.  Other lawmakers who initially signed the pledge said they are no longer concerned with what Americans for Tax Reform might approve, particularly when state higher education and health care services are facing devastating cuts.


The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace, meanwhile, notes that even though the governor’s budget was blessed by ATR, it is drawing fire from some of the governor’s traditional allies in Baton Rouge, including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the arch-conservative Hayride blog.


While the administration has finally conceded that accounting gimmicks, raids on trust funds and use of one-time money won’t solve the budget’s major structural problems, it’s also pretty much given up on the idea that there should be a policy purpose behind its proposals. That’s a step backward even from Jindal’s last major tax plan, his 2013 attempt to eliminate the state income tax and raise sales taxes. That too drew immediate fire from both lawmakers and LABI — although it also had the backing of Americans for Tax Reform — but at least Jindal tried to sell it as a way to compete with no-income-tax states such as Texas.  This time, he’s not even bothering to offer a rationale at all, other than to explain how it meets the terms of the no-tax pledge.


Students want a voice in higher education

Amid all the talk about budget cuts to Louisiana’s colleges and universities – a subject covered extensively in local, state and national media – none of the coverage has sought perspective from the people who will be most affected: the students themselves. That needs to change, says a group of LSU students (including LBP intern Garrett Clawson) in a commentary published by Times-Picayune.


We seek input into the conversation; our futures are on the line. At the end of the day, neither the Jindal administration nor the state Legislature will have to worry about how they are going to pay for school next year. The burden of lost professors and deteriorating infrastructure won’t just fall on the university. These changes will become part of our everyday experience. As students, we understand the nature of our jobs and the job of the Legislature. However, we feel that the interests of those directly affected by the multi-million dollar cuts should be represented at the table. Everyone’s asked Gov. Jindal. They’re asking the Legislature, public policy experts, pundits and the like. Why haven’t they asked us?


BESE bucks Jindal on MFP

Louisiana’s top school board is proposing to spend $44 million more on public schools next year than Gov. Bobby Jindal outlined in his executive budget. The extra spending includes $36 million for a 1.4 percent inflationary increase and $8 million for students with disabilities and those taking “dual enrollment” courses for college credit. The funding proposal from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education follows the recommendation of state Education Superintendent John White, who has been at odds with Jindal on several issues in recent months.


Number of the Day

$15.05Median hourly wage in Louisiana, 2014 (Source: Economic Policy Institute)