Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Grace: Cigarette tax counts as a session victory; Supreme Court could jeopardize health coverage for 138,000 Louisianans; Capital outlay reform fails to pass and; New Orleans makes progress on prison reform

Grace: Cigarette tax counts as a session victory

Public health advocates aren’t happy about a last-minute compromise that knocked a proposed cigarette tax increase down to 50 cents a pack – down from the $1.18 originally sought and the 72-cent hike approved by the state Senate. But The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace puts things in context, and counts the bill among the positive developments in the just-concluded session.

 

The vote to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50 cents — the culmination of a crusade by state Rep. and longtime smoker Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa — was a big part of the budget showdown, but it also carries some beneficial side effects. Public health advocates tout higher tobacco taxes not just as a revenue source but also as a deterrent; according to the American Lung Association, each 10 percent increase in the cost of cigarettes cuts consumption by roughly 7 percent among young people and 4 percent among adults. Sure, the Legislature could have — and should have — picked a higher number. But compared with where we were in 2011, when Jindal vetoed the renewal of a piddly 4-cent temporary levy rather than risk violating the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, well, let’s just say that we’ve come a long way, baby.

 

Supreme Court could jeopardize health coverage for 138,000 Louisianans

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether people who bought health coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace are eligible for federal subsidies that make those plans affordable. The ruling could have a major impact on Louisiana, which is among the 34 states that opted to let the federal government run the insurance exchange instead of setting up a state-run marketplace. A report by Families USA says 138,000 Louisiana policyholders could be affected by the ruling. Bruce Alpert of NOLA.com has the story:

 

“The people most likely to find some way to continue to purchase insurance are the older and sicker people,” Pollack said. Younger, and healthier people, he predicted, would likely drop out of the insurance market because, without the subsidies, they’d no longer consider it a good value, Pollack said. That would mean substantially higher premiums for those in need of health coverage.

 

Capital outlay reform fails to pass

The House and Senate could not agree during session on a new way to determine how to prioritize state construction projects, leaving the authority with the governor.  Although the construction budget – known as “capital outlay” – is developed by the Legislature, it is the governor who traditionally decides which projects will be funded. Melinda Deslatte of The Associated Press reports:

 

Efforts to assert legislative power over construction spending fell apart when senators refused to go along with changes sought by the House to give lawmakers more control over how the state prioritizes its limited construction dollars. The legislation faced opposition from Senate President John Alario. “We tried to work out a deal with the Senate in the final days, but we just couldn’t get it done,” said Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, sponsor of one of the bills. The state construction budget passed by lawmakers each year, known as the capital outlay bill, has become a sort of wish list. It’s crammed with more proposals for roadwork, economic development projects, building repairs, park improvements and lawmakers’ favored construction work back home than the state has money to spend.

 

New Orleans makes progress on prison reform

A new report by The Data Center applauds the city of New Orleans for reducing the Orleans Parish Prison population from a pre-Katrina level of 6,000 inmates to fewer than 1,900 in April 2015.  Although Louisiana’s incarceration rate remains the world’s highest, this represents real progress. NOLA.com’s Ken Daley reports:

 

The report applauds city leaders for ending the parish jail’s per diem funding system. The report says the city has benefitted by seeing a declining crime rate and cost benefits from no longer incarcerating residents at a rate five times the national average. It said new municipal ordinances enacted in 2008 and 2010 have encouraged New Orleans police officers to issue summonses in nearly 70 percent of non-violent municipal offenses, while reserving OPP primarily for those arrested or awaiting trial for violent offenses. Along with a more robust New Orleans Pretrial Services that launched in 2012, the report said efforts to reframe the city’s pretrial incarceration system have helped nearly 10 percent of low- and low/moderate-risk defendants to be released on their own recognizance or through other non-financial means in the regular court process. The report said the vast majority of those defendants are “appearing for court dates and staying crime-free during the pretrial period.”

 

Number of the Day

$85 million – Cost of upgrades to LSU’s recreational facilities, including the addition of a lazy river and pool complex  (Source: Inside Higher Ed.)