Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Make Louisiana’s tax structure fairer; Medicaid expansion campaign launches; “Raise the age” soars over Senate hurdle; and Controls to TOPS expected

Make Louisiana’s tax structure fairer

With state policymakers looking at major changes to Louisiana’s tax code in a June special session and early 2017, a new campaign aims to ensure that the burden falls heaviest on those who can most afford to pay. Together Louisiana, a statewide network of religious and civic organizations that advocates for the poor, on Monday presented recommendations for “tax fairness.” Gov. John Bel Edwards attended and largely agreed with their proposals. The organization is advocating for fewer corporate tax exemptions, changes to income tax brackets, and opposes any further sales tax increases. Members specifically commented on tax changes resulting from the special session earlier this year. Elizabeth Crisp, reporting for The Advocate, captured the group’s sentiment:


The Rev. Theron Jackson, of Shreveport, citing an analysis from the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said tax hikes from the special legislative session earlier this year will disproportionately affect poorer residents. Legislators raised about $1.1 billion for the coming year’s budget — much of that through temporarily increasing the state’s sales tax…Based on the institute’s analysis, the impact on those who make below $32,000 a year will be six times greater than those who make more than $1.2 million, when comparing the special session tax hikes as a percentage of annual income.


Edwards is planning to call a second special session and is looking to the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy to make recommendations for balancing the state budget. He is considering removing credits and changes to the income tax, but will not consider further sales tax increases.


Medicaid expansion campaign launches

Gov. John Bel Edwards launched a statewide tour to encourage newly eligible Louisianans to sign up for Medicaid under the expansion provisions. Louisiana’s Medicaid program will now be known as “Healthy Louisiana,” replacing Bayou Health. Edwards has made Medicaid expansion a top priority for his administration, which is expected to cover an additional 375,000 working-age Louisiana adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $33,460 for a family of four. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Kevin Litten shares Edwards’ comments about expansion.


When we talk about positive impact, we don’t just mean for health care, we mean for the economy and the budget,” Edwards said, touting the $180 million savings his administration has been projecting. “We want to make sure the public gets all the information they need…It’s about our patients and their health outcomes,” Edwards said. “So that the people of Louisiana can be happier, healthier and more productive and have a higher quality of life.”


“Raise the age” soars over Senate hurdle

The Raise the Age Act of 2016 (Senate Bill 324), that would increase the age of legal delinquency from 17 to 18, passed the senate with a 33-4 vote yesterday. Louisiana is one of only nine states that relegate 17-year-olds to the adult criminal justice system even for minor, nonviolent offenses. Based on the experiences of other states that have returned 17-year-olds to the juvenile system, Louisiana is likely to see budget savings due to the benefits of age-appropriate education and rehabilitative services that reduce recidivism and escalation to more serious crime. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports on support for the bill.


Baton Rouge Republican Sen. Dan Claitor, a former New Orleans prosecutor, argued in favor of the legislation, said a lot of teenagers do stupid things, sometimes resulting in a criminal prosecution. The legislation allows flexibility to charge 17-year-olds as adults if they commit violent and predatory crimes, he noted. But the vast majority of teenagers don’t commit those kinds of crimes and would benefit from the more lenient punishments in a juvenile justice system that focuses more on giving them a helping hand to correct their behavior, Claitor said. “Given the opportunity, most will grasp it,” he said.


Controls to TOPS expected

A bill to peg the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) awards to 2016-17 levels and decouple the award from tuition increases gained approval by the Louisiana House. Gov. John Bel Edwards,  who made the measure part of his official package of bills for the session, is expected to sign. The Legislature describes the move as a means to control the costs of the popular scholarship program which is expected to cost nearly $300 million next fiscal year, and is short $187 million under the current budget proposal. Julia O’Donoghue with Nola.com/The Times-Picayune has more:


Edwards and lawmakers are scrambling to find two-thirds of the money needed to fund TOPS fully for the fall…If the money isn’t found, TOPS recipients in the fall and spring would likely only receive about one-third of the funding they expected. Louisiana’s budget is about $600 million short in funding overall for the next fiscal cycle. House Republicans have said they will find the extra money needed for TOPS through budget cuts. But Edwards and the Senate leadership have said they think the Legislature will need to raise more money — possibly through more tax increases — to fully fund the scholarship program.


Number of the day

6 – Changes to Louisiana’s tax structure during this year’s special session will impact those who make below $32,000 a year six times more than those who make more than $1.2 million as a percentage of annual income. (Source: ITEP via The Advocate)