Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Big savings from Medicaid expansion; Governor wants higher gas tax; Nobody is happy with the governor’s budget; ‘Debtors prison’ fee repeal moves forward

Big savings from Medicaid expansion
Louisiana will save an estimated $1 billion over the next decade from its decision to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health coverage to low-income adults, Gov. John Bel Edwards told a Senate oversight committee on Monday. Edwards said the first five years will yield savings of $677 million as the state moves from its decades-old charity hospital model to a coverage model where the federal government pays at least 90 percent of the cost. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports,

His attendance at the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Monday was the third time this session that he’s personally attended hearings to push items on his campaign platform. He previously testified in favor of bills that seek to raise the minimum wage and require equal pay for men and women. The reception to his Medicaid testimony was mostly positive. “We don’t do a whole lot for the working poor people in this state, and I think this is a major step forward for those folks,” Sen. Jay Luneau said, D-Alexandria. Edwards said that expanding Medicaid will benefit rural hospitals and help cut down on the amount prisons have to spend on health care and mental health costs to the state.

Kevin Litten of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune says Edwards and Health and Hospitals Secretary Rebecca Gee plan a series of appearances around the state in coming weeks to tout the benefits of expansion.

DHH officials will make an effort in the coming weeks to educate legislators about the benefits of Medicaid expansion and what they said was misinformation given to the Legislature to justify not expanding Medicaid under former Gov. Bobby Jindal. “I believe the folks in the prior administration who said we couldn’t afford Medicaid expansion, they took the worst case scenario on every variable,” Edwards said. “If you look at what we’re doing in light of experience in other states … we know we’re going to save money.”

 

Governor wants higher gas tax

Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to raise Louisiana’s gas tax and pump the new revenue into a set of specific transportation infrastructure projects. Edwards told a gathering of business leaders and economic developers that he wants to make sure dollars in the state transportation trust fund are spent for their intended use instead of being diverted to other needs as occurred under former Gov. Bobby Jindal. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard has more:

Edwards said that during his roughly 100 days in office — he was inaugurated on Jan. 11 — he has not routed money out of the Transportation Trust Fund for other noninfrastructure, transportation-related programs, such as helping the State Police’s budget. That left available for infrastructure projects $60 million more than former Gov. Bobby Jindal spent in his last year in office, he said. He plans to double the state’s investments in the ports and to spend about $80 million out of the state’s construction funds on transportation, Edwards said.

 

Nobody is happy with the governor’s budget
The latest budget proposal from Gov. John Bel Edwards is drawing fire from all sides – including the governor himself – as it proposes deep cuts to safety-net hospitals, TOPS scholarships, corrections and other programs that have broad support from lawmakers. Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com, writing in the Daily Comet, breaks down the political calculations.

Many conservatives would still like to see the governor hold off on calling a second special session until late summer or the early fall. Conservatives are hopeful tax collections might pick up in the coming months, or that the revenue bills approved over the past year will bring in more money than anticipated. Some Democrats are also unhappy about the cuts to hospitals and health care services in the budget bills, inside House Bill 1, as it stands now with the administration’s revisions. Lawmakers who voted with the governor on tax increases earlier this year were particularly displeased to see cuts to health care services in their districts. After the long hours his team putting into crafting the proposed budget changes that were announced this week, the governor will certainly not want to hear from the Democrats who are whispering about not even wanting to pass a budget in the regular session when a second special session will be needed to create the revenue needed to fully fund priorities.

 

‘Debtors prison’ fee repeal moves forward
The Louisiana House agreed unanimously on Monday to repeal a $50 fee against those who fail to appear in East Baton Rouge courts for misdemeanor offenses and traffic violations. Rep. Ted James’ House Bill 92 has already led to nearly $1 million in collections. The revenue was originally intended for a misdemeanor jail, which critics assailed as a debtors’ prison. An amendment by Rep. Steve Carter would evenly divide the money among  the courts, the District Attorney’s office and public defenders. Will Sentell of The Advocate provides background:

If the bill is successfully passed in the state Senate and signed by the governor, it would dash Baton Rouge law enforcement leaders’ plans to finance a misdemeanor jail as a means to reduce the roughly 100,000 misdemeanor violations on the books…However, local leaders [East Baton Rouge Metro Council] later disagreed on whether the detention facility was a good idea, as opponents rallied saying it was immoral to target and jail mostly low-income, nonviolent offenders.

Nola.com/The Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry says there is a lack of political will to correct the only-in-Louisiana system where public defense is financed largely by fines and fees, which has left many poor defendants languishing in jail while they await their day in court.  

There are two competing interests here. Public safety versus personal freedom. The right of the public to not be harmed versus the right of the individual to not be railroaded into prison. Those two concerns are only being pitted one against the other because the Louisiana Legislature has not done its duty to adequately fund public defense. When lawmakers have given money to public defenders, they have done so in the worst way possible: insufficiently and in a way that also keeps the greatest number of people in jail…”When an indigent defendant appears in (Orleans Parish) court,” a September class-action suit noted, “every government entity—the jailor who brought her there, the lawyer assigned to represent her, the prosecutor arguing against her, and the judge ruling on her case—funds its own budget in part based on the decisions made in her case. Each of them takes a percentage of every money bond that is required for release after arrest. Each also partially funds their own budgets through fees that are assessed only upon conviction.”

Number of the day

20 cents– Tax on one gallon of gas in Louisiana, which hasn’t been increased since 1990 (Source: American Petroleum Institute).