An education adviser to Gov. John Bel Edwards provided insight into one way the governor will look to achieve balance in his Executive Budget to be released next month: a funding freeze for the state’s K-12 schools. While there is hope that the Legislature will work to raise revenue during the regular session that begins in April, the governor must construct his budget based on revenue projections of current law. The Advocate’s Will Sentell has the story:
BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) is set to make its funding request to the Louisiana Legislature on March 7-8, and the advisory panel said a $35 million hike in basic school aid should be its top priority. But (education adviser, Donald) Songy said Edwards weighed that option, had discussions with officials of the budget arm of his administration and opted not to back what would be a 1.375 percent increase, to $4,015 per student.”They cannot support the per pupil increase in the executive budget,” Songy told the 27-member panel. “He is putting a realistic budget out there.” The governor is set to unveil his executive spending plans next month for the legislative session that begins April 10. A major revenue shortfall is expected for the financial year that begins July 1.
When accounting for inflation, Louisiana has cut general support to K-12 schools by 3.6 percent since 2008.
Medicaid, Medicaid, Medicaid
U.S. Senator John Kennedy does not think highly of Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans. Despite the Medicaid expansion’s extension of life-saving coverage to over 385,000 of his constituents, Kennedy blames it for a parade of horribles: from inadequate funding for TOPS to traffic in Baton Rouge. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn reports that Louisiana Secretary of Health, Rebekah Gee, is pushing back:
Gee said the Medicaid expansion brought $2 billion in federal funding the state and insured about 380,000 Louisianians. “Those people have had 50,000 primary care visits, many of which were life saving after cancers and other problems were discovered that could have gone untreated,” she said. “I don’t know what more that could have been done to make (Kennedy) happy.” Gee didn’t dispute the state’s Medicaid budget has nearly doubled since 2008, but pointed out most of the funding is federal, which Kennedy acknowledged, including 90 percent for the expansion.
And, as Judith Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, costs for the Medicaid expansion population are actually falling:
Covering adults eligible under the expansion still costs more per person than covering non-expansion adults in 2016, on average. But CMS (Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services) expects expansion adults to become less expensive than non-expansion adults in 2018 and remain so through 2025. The 2016 cost decline is exactly what CMS expected — unlike 2014 and 2015, when it raised its estimates for covering expansion adults. As we explained (see here and here), the higher costs of those years reflected higher-than-expected payments to managed care companies because states had little experience on which to base their rates for the newly covered adults.
Some Republican health care proposals offer cuts to Medicaid by transforming it into a block grant that would shift enormous costs to the states, be less responsive to recessions, and mean less care for people in need and lower payments to providers. Notably, the plan introduced this week by Senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins did not include a Medicaid block grant. Disagreements within the GOP ranks on block grants have been a sticking point in ramming through an ACA repeal, according to a report from Burgess Everett, Rachel Bade, and Rachana Pradhan of Politico:
At the crux of the matter is an impossible task set forth by Trump: In recent interviews he has said he wants to block-grant Medicaid funding to the states but also ensure the roughly 11 million people who received coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion do not lose it. Those two things are fundamentally at odds with each other because block grants are widely viewed as likely to result in sweeping cuts in government-subsidized health insurance for the poor. The mixed signals to the Hill are making it hard for lawmakers to get on the same page and coalesce around a plan.
Teachers, coastal advocates balk at Harris’ proposed cuts
Organizations representing Louisiana teachers along with advocates for saving Louisiana’s imperiled coast spoke out separately against Rep. Lance Harris’ plan to plug the mid-year deficit with deep budget cuts. Miranda Klein of The Town Talk has the reaction of teachers:
Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter said a nearly $29 million hit would “devastate” already cash-strapped school systems. “It’s shameful to consider cuts that threaten the future of our schools and our children,” Carter said. “This is the first time in our history that serious proposals have been made to actually reduce funding for public education. We cannot simply cut our way to prosperity in this state,” Carter continued. “At a time when we demand more accountability and rigorous standards from our schools, this plan would pull the rug out from under the progress we are making.”
And here’s an excerpt from the letter coastal advocates penned to Gov. John Bel Edwards in opposition to Harris’ cuts:
Mid-year funding sweeps have continued to diminish the coastal fund, totaling now over $12 million within the past 3 years alone, including twice during the previous calendar year. These continuing cuts continue to challenge the CPRA (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority) by limiting its ability to pay for operating costs, which come directly from their fund and not from the state’s general fund like other agencies. This approach is also a practice that we believe should not be continued to fill budget gaps.
An infrastructure plan
Spurred by President Trump’s promises to make a massive investment in the country’s infrastructure, Democrats in the U.S. Senate have released an outline of a plan. Vox’s Brad Plumer reports:
On Tuesday, Democrats led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unveiled a proposal to spend $1 trillion over the next 10 years to repair old bridges and roads, expand bus and rail systems, and modernize ports, highways, airports, schools, grids, and much, much more. Unlike Trump’s plan, this would be accomplished through direct federal spending. The exact funding mechanisms are still unspecified (in recent years, Democrats have rallied around corporate tax reform to pay for infrastructure).
Number of the Day
6.1 – Percentage of Louisianans searching for work who remained unemployed in December, the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor via The Associated Press)