The Senate Finance Committee reshuffled the spending priorities in the state budget on Monday, ensuring that waiver services for people with disabilities are fully funded while cutting more deeply into safety-net hospitals and TOPS scholarships. Unless legislators agree to raise more money in the upcoming special session, next year’s budget will have $600 million less than what’s needed to keep state government operating at current levels. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte was there.
The budget proposal heading to the full Senate for consideration Wednesday would provide 48 percent of the financing needed to fully pay for all students eligible for TOPS. Safety net hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured would take cuts, with the state health department left to determine how to divvy up the reductions. Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said that “could lead to the closure of one of those hospitals. Absolutely, that could happen.” Higher education, the LSU medical schools, K-12 public schools and the voucher program that provides taxpayer-financed tuition for private schools all would face cuts. Public safety and social service programs, state parks and museums and most areas of state government would be on the chopping block.
Special session to start June 6
Legislators will barely get a chance to catch their breath after the regular session adjourns June 6. As expected, Gov. John Bel Edwards has called a second special session that will start 30 minutes after the end of the current session and continue for up to 17 days. The aim will be to raise $600 million in new revenues needed to avoid cuts to health-care, public safety and education programs that are threatened in next year’s budget. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports,
Among the largest revenue-generating items Edwards has included in his call are efforts to change the state’s personal and corporate income tax brackets and limit the itemized deductions from state income taxes that people can claim in excess of their federal tax deductions. Limiting those deductions would make middle- and upper-income taxpayers pay more. Shifting tax brackets also would mean that some people would pay more in taxes. The change to personal income tax brackets had so little support during the earlier special session that it wasn’t even brought up for a vote on the House floor. The measure would have raised $324 million a year, but Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson said how much the administration hopes to raise with this second effort hasn’t been decided yet.
The failed promise of incentives
The recent announcement that Bell Helicopters will not be building its 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter in Lafayette despite $26.5 million in state incentives prompted The Advocate’s Mark Ballard to look at what the state is getting for its generous business incentive programs – and whether the politics that surround such deals may be changing.
For at least the past decade, legislators have patted LED secretaries on the head, praised them and opened their wallets wide. But that may be changing. One hint might be Sen. Eric LaFleur’s appraisal of how politicians view economic development: Everyone slapping each other on the back at project announcements, congratulating themselves as masters of the universe for landing a plant that will translate into millions of dollars for the economy and lots of jobs. “We don’t really spend a lot time looking at the details that closely,” he added. What may make his sarcastic evaluation more ominous is that the Ville Platte Democrat also chairs the Senate Finance Committee — and he gave it minutes before taking on the job of rewriting the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Time to rethink school vouchers
The Brookings Institution, citing research from Louisiana and Indiana, says it’s time for leaders to re-think school voucher programs. The recommendation comes after a widely-cited study showed students in Louisiana who received school vouchers actually performed worse on standardized tests than their peers who remained in public schools.
These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools. Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. … In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction.
Number of the Day
48 – Percentage of the TOPS scholarship program that would be financed next year under the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the state budget. Around 51,000 Louisiana students would be forced to pay higher tuition as a result. (Source: Associated Press)