Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

NOLA and Baton Rouge hardest hit by food stamp change; Budget balancing act continues; Congress eyes state mineral revenues; and Candidates weigh in on TOPS

NOLA and Baton Rouge hardest hit by food stamp change
The Jindal administration’s decision to refuse federal food assistance for unemployed adults will disproportionately affect New Orleans and Baton Rouge residents, but the effects will be felt statewide. Marsha Shuler of the Advocate reports that 64,000 adults who can’t find work may also not be able to put food on the table if the administration continues to refuse to apply for the funds that come at no cost to the state.


“We believe that the more people work, the better for the state, the better for the individual and their families,” state Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said Thursday. “It truly is a win,-win. She said the sole goal of the effort is “self-sufficiency.” But Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller called the move “absolutely heartless.” “We are all in favor of self-sufficiency, but it’s not that easy in this economy,” Moller said. He noted the unemployment rate in certain areas of the state is “well below the national average,” as well as the state’s labor force participation rate. “This is a mean-spirited, unwise decision that leaves federal money on the table to help people put food on the table,” said Moller, whose Budget Project advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income people. Benefits paid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, are totally federally funded, so no state budget funds are being saved.


Just to be clear: Rejecting federal food assistance for low-income, unemployed adults does not create a single job, and does not save state taxpayers a single dime. All it does is increase the likelihood that people will go hungry.


Budget balancing act continues
The sniping between state Treasurer John Kennedy and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration isn’t slowing down as the governor nears the end of his term. The latest skirmish: $12 million in “fund transfers” that were supposed to help balance the books on last year’s budget yet never took place. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports that Kennedy says the funds were not available to transfer, while the Jindal folks  say Kennedy waited too long to make the transfer, and that the funds were spent before they could be swept. The bottom line: Louisiana might need to come up with another $12 million to close the books on the 2015 fiscal year.


The Jindal administration won’t say just how short they are for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols says the calculations are still being made, but the number will be ready by the time the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meets later this month. Nichols said the governor already has enacted hiring and spending freezes in this year’s budget that could help close the gap left from last year. Kennedy suspects that when the books are finally closed on Fiscal Year 2015 the deficit will be about $100 million. Legislators then will have to come up with new spending cuts to balance the past year’s budget. If the $100 million is spread over only six months, then it has the impact of being $200 million, Kennedy said. “While delaying it may, to some, be good politics, it hurts the taxpayers,” Kennedy said, talking a swipe at Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for president and often is saying on the campaign trail that he has successfully shepherded Louisiana’s budget. After balancing last year’s budget, the new governor – Jindal is term-limited – and the new Legislature will have to tackle the deficit, now approaching $1 billion, in next year’s budget.


Congress eyes state mineral revenues
The editorial board has a message for Congress: “Keep your greedy hands off of Louisiana’s revenue sharing money.” A move is afoot in Washington to divert oil and gas revenues that are already overdue to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, so the money can be used for  developing clean energy, modernizing the power grid and debt reduction. If Congress agrees to change the 2006 law that gives Gulf Coast states a share of the royalties generated by offshore energy production, it would mean another setback in Louisiana’s efforts to restore its coast.


Louisiana has a more urgent need for the money. It is vital to helping restore our coast, which is vital to the economic lifeblood of our nation. The canals that were cut through the state’s wetlands for oil and gas exploration contributed to erosion that destroyed 1,900 square miles of land from 1932 to 2000. And our marshes are still washing away. All we need is for the federal government to send Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas the revenues approved by Congress in the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. That is 37.5 percent of royalties on new drilling starting in 2017, which is expected to produce up to $500 million per year for the four states. Louisiana is planning to use its estimated $140 million per year in revenue sharing to go toward the state’s $50 billion, 50-year coastal master plan. This is essential funding for rebuilding our coast — which is important not only for us but for the nation as a whole.


Candidates weigh in on TOPS
Candidates for governor were asked what their plans were for the TOPS program at a recent forum at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.  WRKF has their answers:


“I am absolutely committed to the TOPS program,” John Bel Edwards assured them. “As your Governor, we’re gonna end the practice of annual double digit tuition increases. That will keep the cost of the program in check.”

Jay Dardenne is less sure TOPS will continue to cover all tuition, as it presently does. Dardenne said he would have signed a bill Governor Jindal vetoed, which would have capped TOPS at the current level. It would have let the Legislature adjust TOPS upward if there’s sufficient money to do so. “It’s going to remain a priority,” Dardenne stated, “but I think the Legislature has to have some discretion when we face severe budget deficits like we did this year.”

“I do not believe that we ought to cap the TOPS program,” Angelle declared. “I believe we ought to eliminate low-performing programs as opposed to penalizing high-performing students.”

Although Vitter wasn’t at that particular forum, at another he indicated his agreement with Angelle on cutting some college programs to reduce higher education costs. “In greater Shreveport-Bossier, there are four separate public nursing programs. We don’t need four different public administrations running the show at additional cost. We need to streamline and consolidate that,” Vitter stated in April. Regarding TOPS, Vitter’s website states he would consider a cap, much like the bill Jindal vetoed this year.


Number of the Day

0 – The amount of money the state will save by its decision to reject federal food assistance dollars for unemployed, childless adults. (Source: The Advocate)