Gov. John Bel Edwards came to office promising to end the age-old practice of using one-time, stopgap funding to pay for recurring government expenses, which grew to epidemic proportions under his predecessor. And for the most part, Edwards and the Legislature kept that vow in constructing the 2016-17 budget. But with the state facing a $304 million midyear shortfall, Edwards has laid out a rebalancing plan that leans heavily on the use of one-time dollars, and his critics in the Legislature are crying foul. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
Edwards’ plan, released a day earlier, recommends cutting about $60 million in state agencies and using more than $240 million in reserves and other financing to close the $304 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30. … Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said the cuts in Edwards’ plan appeared to be “minimal.” He questioned whether they would represent permanent savings to the $27 billion operating budget or short-term reductions like delaying hiring plans. Edwards described the approach as responsible financial management, until the state can make long-term changes in its budget and tax structure in the regular legislative session that begins in April. “To force cuts at this point in time, with this little time left in the fiscal year is very difficult for agencies to do, especially when heaped on previous cuts,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ chief budget adviser.
Student leader blasts Regents’ TOPS proposal
LSU Student Government President Zachary Faircloth slammed the Louisiana Board of Regents’ proposal to restrict TOPS scholarship awards in the first two years of college, calling it a “brain tax.” The Regents’ plan would also make it more difficult for low-income students to access higher education here in Louisiana. The Advocate’s Will Sentell has more on Faircloth’s letter:
A draft proposal by education leaders to trim TOPS aid would be a reason for students to avoid state schools, LSU Student Government President Zachary Faircloth said Monday. “The Regents’ proposals on TOPS create a disincentive to attend Louisiana universities and opens the door for the poaching of our students to rival states,” Faircloth said in a two-page letter to Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo. On Jan. 9 the state Board of Regents issued a tentative plan that would make college freshmen eligible for 80 percent of what students traditionally collect when they qualify for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS.
Threats to children’s health care in Louisiana
Louisiana ranks low on many health indicators. But one area where our state has made significant gains in recent years is in providing health coverage to children. While children in Louisiana are more likely to be poor than adults, they also are much more likely to have health insurance. This is thanks large part to Medicaid and the Louisiana Children’s Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP). These programs are the main reason Louisiana has a 3.2 percent uninsured rate for children, below the national historic low of 4.1 percent. Prior to the introduction of LaCHIP, close to 1 in 3 low-income Louisiana children lacked health coverage. But as LBP’s Carmen Green and Nick Albares explain in a new blog, these gains are threatened by the ongoing efforts on Capitol Hill to roll back the landmark 2010 health reform law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Read more on LBP’s web page.
Legacy of slave taxes in Alabama
A number of Southern states, including Louisiana, levied “slave taxes” on those who held people as property during the shameful era when slavery was legal. Brian Lyman of The Montgomery Advertiser has the story of how these taxes shape Alabama’s current fiscal problems.
Like slavery, the slave tax would leave a permanent wound on the state. When slavery died, so did the tax. Reconstruction-era efforts to replace the lost revenue with increased property taxes — the only major source left — sparked an angry reaction. Legislators rushed to introduce tax restrictions after Reconstruction without making serious efforts to find other sources of revenue. That set in place decades-long policies that, to this day, make it difficult and sometimes impossible for Alabama to generate enough revenue to pay for its state services. The $1.8 billion General Fund, which pays for most noneducation services in the state, should grow no more than $25 million in 2018; the state’s Medicaid agency alone has requested a $44 million increase for the year.
Trump considering more health actions
President Donald Trump’s administration is considering executive actions that may increase health costs for older Americans. The changes- pushed by the health insurance industry- include restricting the individual market open enrollment period and charging older people higher premiums. Politico’s Dan Diamond reports:
The draft documents show the Trump administration may loosen an Obamacare provision barring insurers from charging older customers more than three times as much as their younger enrollees…The administration is also looking to slash the 2018 enrollment period in half. It would run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, rather than through the end of January 2018 as the Obama administration had proposed. HHS is also considering tough new rules around special enrollment periods, which insurers complain have allowed some Obamacare customers to wait until they get sick before signing up for coverage. All individuals who sign up outside the standard enrollment window will be required to provide documentation proving they’re eligible before coverage takes effect.
Health policy watchers are already weighing in on the ratio increase. The law states that the cost ratio between plans for older and younger Americans can’t be more than 3:1. The administration is considering boosting that ratio to 3.49:1, reasoning that this still rounds down to 3. It’s uncertain whether this would pass legal muster. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Sarah Lueck also provides analysis on the potential actions:
Supporters of the proposals seem unfazed at the impact on consumers. “If . . . maybe fewer people sign up for subsidized coverage, then so be it,” said the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Haislmaier, who worked on health insurance issues for the Trump transition team. “There is a new set of priorities here.” Maintaining access to affordable coverage doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Number of the Day
2,343 – Number of housing vouchers Louisiana would lose under under a continuing resolution that freezes voucher funding for all of 2017 at last year’s level. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)