Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Robideaux: Budget is responsible; Ragin’ Cajuns: More work to be done; Maybe wage stagnation isn’t a problem? and; One man’s walk for justice

Robideaux: Budget is responsible

Responding to criticism from business lobbyists, House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Joel Robideaux told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday that he and other legislators did what they had to do to protect higher education. Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press has the story:


Robideaux said lawmakers “trimmed” tax breaks that were too generous when struggling with a budget shortfall. He noted many reductions to the tax credit and subsidy programs were only enacted for three years. “We gave these incentives to the business community. … When you give them 10 M&Ms and then you come back and say, ‘Look, we’re only giving you eight,’ and they holler and scream that they’re only getting eight M&Ms, it’s kind of hard to sympathize with them,” he said. “I can’t wait for the time that we can undo the reduction of these tax exemptions, when the economy’s picking back up, because I think they weren’t bad ideas,” Robideaux said. But he added: “With what we were facing, it was a pretty easy decision to peel them back.”


Of course, as Rep. Robideaux noted, the majority of revenue raised this session will sunset in one to three years, which means the next governor and legislature will have some heavy lifting to do. The drum for comprehensive tax reform is only beating louder.


Ragin’ Cajuns: More work to be done
While one of their own was busy with the Baton Rouge media, other members of the Acadiana delegation sat down with the local press to discuss the recent session, reports Richard Burgess of the Advocate. Clear themes emerged: no one is satisfied and there is more work to be done.


“We saved today, but tomorrow will be unsafe,” said Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette….“It’s kicking the can down the road,” said Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. Most members of the Acadiana delegation at Monday’s forum expect a special session early next year to revisit the budget problems…“I think we are going to hit the refresh button and start again next year,” said Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks.

Criticism of the governor’s SAVE plan–derided even by his allies as a gimmick–and calls for more legislative independence also marked the event.

Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said he hopes a new administration will be more open to working hand in hand with legislators. “Rather than telling you what to do, there will be some give and take,” he said. Landry bemoaned that Jindal’s political ambitions worked more to shape the Legislature’s budget fix this session than any concern of crafting long-term solutions to the state’s recurring budget problems. “The SAVE bill should have been called the ‘Save Bobby Jindal bill,’ ” said Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro. Ortego and Mills said much of the budget shuffling to plug the $1.6 billion hole was done in the final hour of the session, and few legislators likely had time to understand everything they were voting on. “I know we have to do a better job of due process,” Mills said.


Maybe wage stagnation isn’t a problem?
Many- including the Louisiana Budget Project-have focused on widening income inequality and the sluggish wage growth of recent decades  as a defining problem of our era. But maybe it isn’t that bad. Matt O’Brien with the Washington Post–looking at an survey of economists from the IGM Panel–has the counterpoint:


Try this thought experiment. Adjusted for inflation, would you rather make $50,000 in today’s world or $100,000 in 1980’s? In other words, is an extra $50,000 enough to get you to give up the internet and TV and computer that you have now? The answer isn’t obvious. And if $100,000 isn’t enough, what would be? $200,000? More? This might be the best way to get a sense of how much better technology has made our lives—not to mention the fact that people are living longer—the past 35 years, but the problem is it’s particular to you and your tastes. It’s not easy to generalize.


There is no doubt that American lives have changed dramatically in the last 40 years, particularly when it comes to information technology. There also is no doubt that the cost of critical inputs–let’s call them “opportunity goods”–like health care and higher education have far outstripped inflation and wage growth for most families. Put another way, even if it is more comfortable to be low-income today than middle-class a generation ago, it doesn’t mean that today’s economy offers the opportunity and upward mobility that most Americans profess to support as a core value of our society. And that’s what really gets to the heart of income inequality.


One man’s walk for justice

Sometimes, it is necessary to drop the policy arguments and focus on the people. For two years in a row, Mayor Adam O’Neal of coastal Belhaven, North Carolina (about 100 miles from Kitty Hawk, the famous site of the Wright Brothers first flight) has walked all the way to Washington, D.C. to protest the peril of rural hospitals. Rose Hoban with North Carolina Health News tells his story:


“The purpose of this walk is that we want awareness that 283 hospitals are facing closure,” O’Neal said by telephone over the weekend as he neared D.C. “A million dollars per hospital would make all the difference,” he said. “This is not a problem our country can’t fix; it’s a problem that no one is paying attention to.” According to the National Rural Health Association, 53 rural hospitals across the U.S. have closed their doors since 2011; most of those are in the South. O’Neal, a Republican, gained notoriety last year when he spoke out on Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, aligning himself with Democrats who have called on state lawmakers to expand the program. But for this walk, he said, he had the bigger picture in sight.“The walk is not about Belhaven, it’s about hospitals closing in a lot of places,” O’Neal said. “Our country has somehow allowed this tragedy to come to our doorstep.”


Number of the Day

53 – Number of rural hospitals in America that have closed since 2011, mostly in the South. Medicaid expansion is a critical part of the solution to providing financial support to rural hospitals, but Louisiana has rejected the opportunity for three years in a row (Source: North Carolina Health News)