Another critical day for the budget

Another critical day for the budget

The effort to raise enough money to avoid cuts to state services faces another critical test today on the House floor.

The effort to raise enough money to avoid cuts to state services faces another critical test today on the House floor. The Ways & Means Committee narrowly agreed to a House Bill 38, that would bring in an estimated $113 million next year by reducing the amount of excess itemized deductions tax filers can claim on their state returns. The legislation passed 10-9 after Chairman Neil Abramson of New Orleans tacked on a payback trigger that would obligate the state to refund money if the overall revenue forecast improves. Tyler Bridges reporting for The Advocate has more:


Under the amended bill, instead of taking 100 percent of the excess itemized deductions, taxpayers would get to take 57.5 percent — and could take 100 percent of two of those deductions, for mortgage interest payments and charitable contributions — but the loss of the deduction would last only two years. At that point, those taxpayers would get back 100 percent of the deduction and could recoup the money they paid to the state by losing the deduction for those two years. [Rep.] Abramson, [the amendment’s author] and Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s chief economist, repeatedly tried to explain the impact of the amendment to legislators who expressed their confusion. “I may be confused, too,” Albrecht said at one point.


The refunds would come at the same time as other tax measures passed in the first special session are due to sunset.  Even with HB 38, the tax-averse House has only approved about half of the increased revenue needed to fund TOPS, safety-net hospitals, higher education and other needs.


Adding to the general dysfunction at the Capitol, the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that the House and Senate are at odds over the timing of the supplemental budget bill where any new revenues will be spent.


The dispute centers on how Louisiana develops the income projections used for budgeting. Budget bills must start in the House. But House leaders say they don’t want to craft a plan to spend any new tax dollars until the state’s income forecasting panel, called the Revenue Estimating Conference, formally recognizes the money as available for spending. Senate leaders say formal recognition of the tax dollars can happen after the special session ends and before the July 1 start of the new budget year.


Medicaid expansion = savings for states

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that states around the country are  saving money from Medicaid expansion and seeing increased use of preventative care. Louisiana expects to save $677 million over five years. Most importantly, expansion states have seen newly eligible enrollees seek out primary care providers and preventative medicine.


For example, tens of thousands of new enrollees in Kentucky have received cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer screenings and preventive dental services. Similarly, a survey of low-income non-elderly adults in three states found that the share of residents with a primary care physician rose by 8 percentage points more in the expansion states (Arkansas and Kentucky) than in the non-expansion state (Texas). The Medicaid expansion holds particular promise for people with mental health and substance use disorders. Typically, these individuals lack a consistent source of health coverage, instead receiving a patchwork of services through state and local behavioral health programs with limited capacity to meet the demand for care.  As a result, they often cannot access basic care such as screenings, assessments, behavioral health treatment, and prescription drugs, which in turn makes it more difficult to manage their conditions.


Summer camp plans? Only if you have the cash

With the “official” start of summer around the corner, many parents already are grappling with what they consider the “real” start of summer–the last day of school, when they must cobble together child care for the 10 to 11 weeks their children will be on vacation. Those with the funds have an amazing array of mentally and physically stimulating camps and day schools to choose from, while low- and moderate-income parents struggle to find safe environments where they can leave their children while working.  Additionally, lack of access to programs that keep children academically engaged during the summer months contributes to the achievement gap. KJ Dell’antonia from The New York Times explains how.


In summer, the lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for lower income families. Most kids lose math skills over the summer, but low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. Researchers credit the summer slide for about half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.


Changes to school schedules and better funding for summer programming for low- and moderate-income parents would go a long way in addressing the achievement gap created by summer vacation, while also alleviating the stress created by the child care instability it creates.


New data exposes pre-K disparities

New national data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights during the 2013-2014 school year reveals some disturbing trends among elementary school students. Nearly 11 percent of elementary students are chronically absent. African-American students are 1.4 times more likely to be chronically absent, which likely contributes to the achievement gap between black and white students. Moreover, while pre-k suspensions have dropped from 5,000 in 2014 to 2,500, African-American children still are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended. Most surprisingly, only 54 percent of U.S. school districts offer pre-K instruction. Even when offered, pre-K programs may not serve all eligible children in the district.


While we often associate a public program with being free for eligible participants, this isn’t the case in every district. Charging parents tuition for pre-K can make it out of reach for those children who stand to benefit the most. The CRDC [Civil Rights Data Collection] is the most comprehensive data set on district-level pre-K enrollment available. Unfortunately, it does not include data on program quality. Pre-K access is just the first step; programs need to be high quality in order for children to fully benefit.


Number of the day

$948 – The amount parents reported planning to spend in 2014 on summer expenses for children. (Source: The New York Times)