Louisiana’s current budget travails stretch back almost a decade, since lawmakers voted in bipartisan fashion to cut income taxes and make up for the lost revenue with deep budget cuts and an ever-growing reliance on “one-time” revenue, including use of the Rainy Day Fund. But these days many Republicans in the House are balking at plans by Gov. John Bel Edwards to use another $119 million in reserve funds to help plug the mid-year shortfall. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press tries to explain the sudden about-face.
Republican leaders in the Louisiana House who continue to harp about the need to cut a growing state budget have conveniently forgotten that many of them are responsible for the current financial dilemma. The GOP has been the majority party in the House since December of 2010, and Republicans bought into the reckless budgeting practices of former Gov. Bobby Jindal…. Most House Republicans followed in lock step with Jindal for most of his two terms. They not only approved budgets that ended up in mid-year shortfalls, they depleted trust funds like the $850 million in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly and wiped out surpluses wherever they could find them.
School integration fights still a reality
Similar to the recent St. James Parish federal desegregation settlement here in Louisiana, officials in Cleveland, Miss., have resolved a decades-long school integration fight. Often in the rural South, a river, train track or arbitrary marker can separate middle-class neighborhoods with mostly white residents from under-resourced neighborhoods comprised of mostly black people. This was the reality in Cleveland, with separate schools on either side. Emma Brown and Wesley Lowery have the story for The Washington Post.
In May, a federal judge found that Cleveland was operating an illegal dual system for its black and white children, failing after decades to reach the “greatest degree of desegregation possible.” The decision drew national attention, and was followed days later by a federal government report on the rise of segregation in U.S. public schools. The judge ordered the school district to consolidate its two high schools into one that would be approximately two-thirds black and one-third white. The two middle schools would also be consolidated into one. Both of the new schools were to open in fall 2017. The order drew cheers from some in Cleveland, who felt that children would have access to more opportunities in one larger school. But for others, including black and white alumni of both high schools, consolidation was synonymous with loss – loss of tradition and identity associated with their alma maters.
Block granting Medicaid won’t be easy
Vox’s Sarah Kliff interviewed a Republican lawmaker who talked about why block granting Medicaid is a difficult proposition. He highlighted the importance of Medicaid expansion which, here in Louisiana, has brought health coverage to over 390,000 people.
Block grants usually mean something else: a massive cut to Medicaid spending that could throw tens of millions of people off the program. And the politics of that — just at the moment that Obamacare added millions of people to Medicaid — are, as (Rep. Phil) Roe (R-TN) acknowledged, tricky. Roe told me that just before I came in his office, he’d been on the phone with two state senators from Montana who had questions about the future of Medicaid expansion. My colleague Andrew Prokop recently counted up a list of 20 Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid. These might be people who theoretically support block grants but are worried about what will happen to the people in their states who gained coverage.
Landrieu and Landry tussle over NOLA safety
There is no love lost between New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. Landry says the mayor won’t return his calls, while Landrieu referred to the AG as an “ignorant person.” The sour relationship stems from both Landry’s criticism of New Orleans’ crime problems, and a conflicting web of political alliances. The implementation of a federal consent decree governing the NOPD is also a point of contention. Julia O’Donoghue has the story at NOLA.com.
That consent decree arrangement isn’t optional though. It was reached two years after a troubling 2011 report from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal officials concluded effective policing policies had been absent from New Orleans for years. Law enforcement officers showed a disregard for civil rights. The consent decree — through its restrictions — is supposed to fix these problems. Landry said he might use his connections to President Donald Trump to renegotiate the federal consent decree. But Landrieu said that wasn’t necessary. He is in contact with the federal judge and U.S. Department of Justice about how to enforce the decree. If Landrieu needs to talk to federal officials, he has his own connections. He expects Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, would take his calls.
Number of the Day
1.2 – Percent increase in Louisiana’s real GDP during the third quarter of 2016 (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)