Budget deal takes shape

Budget deal takes shape

Most of the action at the Capitol on Monday occurred behind the scenes, and by the time the day ended, it appeared as though a deal was in place between House and Senate leaders to plug the $304 million mid-year deficit.

Most of the action at the Capitol on Monday occurred behind the scenes, and by the time the day ended, it appeared as though a deal was in place between House and Senate leaders to plug the $304 million mid-year deficit. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that it involves the House signing off on the Senate’s version of the budget bill that uses $99 million in state reserve dollars and makes about $85 million in cuts to the budget. In return, the Senate would agree to a bill by House Speaker Taylor Barras that would make across-the-board cuts to areas of the budget that are normally protected.

“Neither of one of us likes it, so that’s got to be a good deal,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said about the tentative agreement between the Senate and House. House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, described the closed-door negotiating sessions, which involved lawmakers from both chambers and Gov. John Bel Edwards, as “some good progress.”

The session must end by midnight Wednesday.


Kansas reverses deep budget damage

Two states – Kansas and Louisiana – have served as national poster children for the fiscal havoc that can ensue when lawmakers pass massive tax cuts. But last week, a majority of Kansas lawmakers reversed course by rolling back that state’s deep tax cut, which would increase state revenue by $1 billion by 2018. Longstanding Republican leaders opposed the tax bill that won with support of freshmen legislators who wanted a permanent fix to the state’s budget problems. The Kansas City Star Editorial Board remarks on how manipulating the tax structure can mean the difference between surplus and shortfall, between dinging the rich and devastating those struggling to make ends meet.

Conservatives and the governor will squawk. They’ll claim, correctly, that the bill represents the largest tax increase in state history — about $1 billion over a two-year period. Their memories, however, are short. Less than two years ago, Brownback tearfully implored many of those same conservatives to pass what was then the largest tax hike ever. They voted yes, and Brownback signed the bill. It’s crucial to remember this. Both sides have voted to raise taxes; they’ve just approached those increases in very different ways. The 2015 Brownback tax increase centered on raising state sales taxes and maintaining sales taxes on grocery store food. That makes the state sales tax highly regressive, putting a disproportionate burden on low-income families.

John Hanna has the specifics on the bill in an article for The Associated Press

The bill approved by lawmakers would raise the top income tax rate from 4.6 percent to 5.45 percent. It would restore a third tax bracket that Brownback successfully sought to eliminate and end an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners that he championed. Brownback’s legislative allies argued that the state should cut spending first.


Tiered TOPS plan is shelved

A controversial plan by the state Board of Regents that would decrease academic scholarship awards for college freshmen and sophomores was quietly shelved this week. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that the plan was dropped in the latest version of a plan that will be presented to the full board this week.

Under that suggestion, freshmen and sophomores would be eligible for less than the traditional assistance from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. Freshmen would get 80 percent of their tuition covered, sophomores 90 percent and juniors and seniors 100 percent, according to the recommendations. … Still in play for Friday’s meeting of the Board of Regents is another controversial proposal to toughen academic requirements for TOPS recipients. Under that plan, students would have to earn 30 credit hours per academic year to keep the assistance, up from 24 credit hours now.


Drug testing the jobless

Drug testing of jobless Americans who collect unemployment benefits could grow under a Republican plan to roll back restrictions put in place under President Barack Obama’s administration. In 2012, compromise legislation passed that expanded unemployment benefits but allowed for some drug testing. The Labor Department took four years to determine a list of jobs the drug testing policy would apply to: Now, that list could be expanding. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and all but one of Louisiana’s federal representatives voted to do away with the regulation. Richard Rainey of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune has more.

“Allowing states to drug test unemployment insurance recipients is just common sense,” Scalise said in a newsletter. “That’s why my House colleagues and I acted this week to overturn Obama’s irresponsible rule, returning power back to the states so they can make sure unemployment insurance applicants are more readily able to enter the workforce again.” The House overwhelmingly passed Joint Resolution 42, with a vote of 236-189 on Wednesday. All five Louisiana House Republicans voted for it. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, opposed it. Supporters of the measure, such as Scalise, hailed drug testing as a tool to ensure the unemployed a better chance to find work. But opponents worried it could run afoul of unlawful search protections under the Fourth Amendment.


Number of the Day;

15.7– percentage of Louisiana adults in the workforce who reported being underemployed. Of the 50 states, the states with rates higher than Louisiana are Nevada, Alaska, New York, California, Mississippi and New Mexico (Source: Gallup via The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report)