Senate leveraging tax fixes for revenue
In an attempt to pressure the House to move more revenue producing legislation, Senate leaders are holding bills that would remove sales taxes from items erroneously included in tax hikes approved during the first special legislative session this year. The House has only approved one-third of the $600 million needed to avoid additional deep cuts to higher education, K-12 education and hospitals, among others. Tyler Bridges, reporting for The Advocate, has more:
Since April 1, for example, the Girls Scouts have had to charge state sales taxes on the sale of cookies and schools have had to charge sales taxes on tickets for high school sports events — after legislators passed a measure in March that mistakenly eliminated a sales tax exemption for these and other transactions involving nonprofits. State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, told a roomful of lobbyists on Monday that the committee, which he chairs, would not restore the tax exemptions as expected. “I would like to correct several of our problems, including taxing Girl Scout cookies,” Morrell said. “You can’t really correct the Girl Scout cookie problem if you don’t have any money to pay for health care or higher education.”
The last hope to generate additional income-tax revenue is Rep. Malinda White’s House Bill 38, which faces a do-or-die vote in the House Ways & Means Committee tomorrow (the House is taking the day off today). White’s legislation would limit itemized deduction claims on state tax returns, which would mainly affect middle- and upper-income taxpayers. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue reports that a compromise is in the works.
Legislators are expected to propose amendments, including adding a 2018 expiration date. It could also go off the books if more revenue than expected starts coming into the state over the next several months, according to changes being considered.
Medicaid expansion: Focus on preventive health
Louisiana health-care providers are anticipating a surge of patients when Medicaid expansion coverage takes effect July 1. While many of the previously uninsured are expected to seek care in emergency rooms, the state Department of Health is hoping to use these emergency visits as opportunities for education on preventative care. Richard Rainey of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune spoke with Lisa Napier, CFO for University Medical Center in New Orleans:
[Napier] sees the shift in the state’s approach to health care for the poor as eventually reducing the appeal of ERs as a first entry point for new patients. “I think it may have a decreasing effect on emergency rooms,” she said. “If you don’t have insurance today, and tomorrow you have an insurance card. … I believe those patients are going to try to get care in a more appropriate setting. Managed Medicaid plans, they’re going to encourage patients to get care in non-emergency settings.”
Others are concerned that primary care will also be stretched due to already-existing provider shortages and whether providers will sign up to serve those insured under Medicaid when the reimbursement rate is 62 cents on each dollar charged. However, not all are worried:
Several specialists and primary care physicians…said their moral imperative to care for those who need it trumped the poor economics staring them down. Plus, some compensation has to be better than nothing at all, which is what they get for treating uninsured patients who can’t pay their bills. “Getting people care in an accessible, insurable environment creates a benefit individually and to the society,” said Dr. Josh Lowentritt, a private practice internist who works at several New Orleans hospitals and clinics. “We’d rather get paid (62) cents than zero.”
Death row legal bills mount
Louisiana taxpayers have forked over more than $1 million in legal bills to avoid installing air conditioning on death row, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. That’s considerably more money than it would have cost the state to provide air conditioning for condemned inmates, some of whom have medical conditions and are forced to endure dangerous heat and humidity during the summer months. The AP’s Michael Kunzelman reports,
Airing his frustrations last month, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson said the bill is “stunning,” given the painful cuts lawmakers are making to balance the state budget. He wondered out loud whether the state’s refusal to give up the fight is based on prison management concerns, politics or ideology. “Is this really what the state wants to do?” he asked. “It just seems so unnecessary.”
Debtors prisons endure in America
Debtors prisons were long ago shunned as inhumane – and counterproductive, since most debtors can only repay those debts if they are out earning income. Yet, even though debtors prisons don’t exist in name, the fees and fines levied by many states and municipalities lead to residents facing crushing, absurd amounts of debt owed to governmental entities. Nicholas Kristof, in an op-ed for the New York Times, explains how we ended up here:
In the last 25 years, as mass incarceration became increasingly costly, states and localities shifted the burden to criminal offenders with an explosion in special fees and surcharges. Here in Oklahoma, criminal defendants can be assessed 66 different kinds of fees, from a “courthouse security fee” to a “sheriff’s fee for pursuing fugitive from justice,” and even a fee for an indigent person applying for a public defender (I’m not kidding: An indigent person is actually billed for requesting a public defender, and if he or she does not pay, an arrest warrant is issued).
Number of the Day
$1,067,000 – Amount the state has paid in legal bills, over the past three years, in connection with a lawsuit seeking air conditioning on death row to avoid dangerous conditions. (Source: Associated Press)