Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Candidates reject budget fix; Satisfaction with health care costs stable; Transportation needs new revenue; and Lieutenant Governor’s race gets attention

Candidates reject budget fix
The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget is meeting today to consider Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to close the state’s latest $487 million shortfall. The plan is a patchwork that includes cuts to health care, the use of one-time money and funding gimmicks and a dip into the “rainy day” fund to avoid even more cuts to higher education. The bottom line? The next governor will have his work cut out for him. Both candidates reject the governor’s proposal, but provide vague details for a solution. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press has details:


Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter called on state lawmakers to reject the plan when they consider it Friday, though neither candidate outlined a specific set of ideas to replace the proposal Jindal offered. Edwards called the governor’s proposal “a disaster” that uses more “smoke and mirrors” to pretend the budget shortfall is addressed.”This is not a plan. This is no more than pushing the problem down the road,” he said. Vitter called it “more patching, more moving money around, more depending on very speculative money.” “It doesn’t address any of the fundamental, core issues that we face as a state,” he said. Jindal replied that if the men seeking to replace him wanted to slam his recommendations, they should offer proposals of their own. A state lawmaker, Edwards said the Legislature should call itself into an immediate special session to develop its own approach to address the deficit, about $370 million of which will have to be closed within the next month. Vitter, a U.S. senator, said he’d like to bring in an outside businessman to comb through state government and look for budget ideas.


Satisfaction with health care costs stable

A poll released by Gallup shows that Americans’ satisfaction with their health care costs hasn’t changed much since 2001 when 58 percent approved compared with 57 percent today. The lowest level of satisfaction was 54 percent in 2006. The poll suggests that even though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought large numbers of previously uninsured people into the health care system, individuals have not changed their opinion on the cost of health care much. Here’s more from Gallup’s poll:


From an overall perspective, the results show that more than two-thirds of Americans continue to rate their healthcare coverage and the quality of their healthcare as excellent or good. These are positive results, although their interpretation in the end depends on expectations. Some might argue that positive ratings should optimally reach closer to 100%, although Americans’ health and economic situations are so different, and the healthcare system is so complex, that substantially increasing positive ratings may be a goal that is difficult to achieve. Fewer than six in 10 Americans are satisfied with the cost of their healthcare, a category that subsumes coverage costs per se, as well as deductibles and copays. This level of satisfaction has remained fairly constant over the past 14 years, suggesting that it is a needle that is hard to move, short of an even more radical restructuring of the overall system than has occurred with the ACA.


Transportation needs new revenue

The Advocate’s editorial board is applauding both John Bel Edwards’ and David Vitter’s commitment to Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS), a group of Baton Rouge based employers focused on transportation. The candidates pledged to improve roads and bridges in the Baton Rouge area, but the Advocate points out that the same commitment is needed for the $12 billion backlog of infrastructure projects statewide. Neither candidate, however, has said where the money will come from.


As so often in politics, the candidates soft-pedaled the notion of new revenues, which was implicit in one of the CRISIS statements. No one wants to admit just before an election that major projects cost so much money that even significant reforms in how existing transportation funds are spent will not build the “megaprojects.” Those include the big issues like new bridges on Interstate 10 over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge or the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles, but also many other backlogged projects in the state. We also urge the candidates to avoid political rhetoric on these issues. Vitter asserted that only 11 percent of the existing Transportation Trust Fund goes for highways, but that’s not completely accurate; that doesn’t count millions spent every year paying off bonds from earlier major projects. It’s like saying a mortgage payment is not a housing expense. More positively, both Vitter and Edwards backed protections for the trust fund to ensure that dollars are not siphoned off for general fund expenditures, as has occurred regularly under Gov. Bobby Jindal. We applaud the employers in the CRISIS group for this effort. Given the imminence of the election, and the reluctance of political figures to ask for new revenues, it’s probably as strong a commitment from the candidates as can reasonably be expected.


Lieutenant Governor’s race gets attention

The competition for Louisiana’s top culture and tourism job has been overshadowed by the fiercely competitive race for Governor. Voters will decide Saturday whether Kip Holden or Billy Nungesser will be Louisiana’s next Lieutenant Governor. Both men spoke at the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday and Sue Lincoln of WRKF was there.


Nungesser said he’ll focus on, “Putting a plan together to restore our historical sites, our museums, and growing tourism ten percent a year over the next four years, creating thousands of jobs and economic growth.” Holden has a different take on the job’s responsibilities. “We are in a position to make a difference in the quality of life for a lot of people and for a lot of kids; making sure that we have quality education for children, at the same time making sure we have the jobs here,” Holden said. “Because there are a lot of people who are still unemployed, and those individuals need help, as well.”

Asked what he’d tackle first, Holden said, “First priority will be to go to as many cities as I possibly can, them telling me what they’d like to see in their cities and small towns.”

But Nungesser believes, “First thing we’ve got to do is put together a plan for the special session.” In light of yet another state budget shortfall, both were asked how they’d handle having their budget raided to pay for special events, such as national playoff games or music festivals. Holden says he would fight. “Unless you get up and fight for that department, it will continue to be raided.” Nungesser, too, said he would not roll over and play dead. “When they pull that money out for a special event, it hurts tourism around the whole state. It cripples our ability to work with our plan to promote Louisiana to the country and the world. I’ll be yellin’ and screamin’ until that ends.”

Vote tomorrow!
You can view your sample ballot and find your polling place here.


Number of the Day
$150 million – Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest proposed cut to health care in order to deal with a $487 million deficit (Source: Associated Press)