Special session ends with budget deal

Special session ends with budget deal

Louisiana legislators wrapped up a nine-day special session with a plan to close a $304 million budget shortfall that neither the House, Senate, or Gov. John Bel Edwards loved, but all could live with.

Louisiana legislators wrapped up a nine-day special session with a plan to close a $304 million budget shortfall that neither the House, Senate, or Gov. John Bel Edwards loved, but all could live with. The plan uses $99 million of the Rainy-Day fund, less than the nearly $120 million Gov. Edwards’ initially proposed. Julia O’Donoghue reports on the specifics of the $82 million in spending cuts for NOLA.com/TImes Picayune.

Spending reductions were approved for state-fund hospitals that treat poor and uninsured people, including University Medical Center in New Orleans, as well as for rural hospitals. Cuts were made to the Department of Education, State Police and local offices that offer mental health and addiction treatment. Attorney General Jeff Landry‘s budget also was cut, though only by one third of what the governor originally wanted and only to the level that Landry had said he could take. The Department of Corrections, which oversees prisons, was spared from spending reductions, as Edwards had proposed. Higher education and the popular TOPS scholarship program were not touched.

The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp and Tyler Bridges have more on the goals for next year’s budget in the regular legislative session, beginning in April.

“You know you’re in a good place where nobody’s totally happy, but everybody’s reasonably satisfied,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. Beginning Thursday morning, the focus will shift toward the next budget cycle… Edwards has called on lawmakers to focus on budget stabilization in the coming session, with a more structural look at how the state takes in and spends taxpayer dollars.


Tax reform is key to new investments

The Louisiana Budget Project released a new report Wednesday, which details policy recommendations aimed at ending Louisiana’s cycle of mid-year deficits, budget crises, and special sessions. The report recommends eliminating income-tax breaks that cost the state more than $1 billion a year and lowering the state’s regressive sales tax while also broadening its base. The goal is to stabilize Louisiana’s tax system and allow for reinvestment in programs that help grow and sustain the middle class.

Senior Policy Analyst and primary author of the report Nick Albares said, “This plan offers a net tax cut to 60 percent of Louisianans. And for many of those who would see an overall increase, we’re talking about the cost of a cup of coffee per week. These are small changes on an individual and family level that would make a big difference for students, struggling families and others who’ve been hurt by bad budget decisions.” Louisiana Budget Project Executive Director Jan Moller commented, “The upcoming 2017 regular session is our best chance in years to break the cycle of budget crises and put our state’s finances back in stable condition. Louisiana faces a $1.2 billion budget cliff in 2018, when temporary tax cuts are due to expire. These temporary measures need to be replaced with a sustainable tax structure that grows with the state economy and allows us to avoid more cuts to health care services, education and other critical services.”

The release of the paper coincided with the launch of the Invest in Louisiana campaign, a grassroots effort focused on engaging Louisiana citizens and the Legislature on tax reform policies that make sense for our families, communities, and state.  The #InvestInLa campaign website can be viewed at www.investlouisiana.org.  


Cassidy townhalls attract national attention

Members of Congress are returning home to angry constituents during the President’s Day recess.  The latest example of this came Wednesday, when Sen. Bill Cassidy had trouble getting a word in during an event in Metairie. The range of topics discussed included the Affordable Care Act, flood recovery, corporate campaign donors, his position on Trump’s executive orders cabinet nominees, and education. The staff at the Advocate reports:

Despite repeated calls for a “yes or no” answer on whether he would support repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan in place, Cassidy did not answer that question. Medical student Stephanie Preston said she found that “disheartening,” given the improvements in quality of care she said she has seen for patients who are getting services through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

The Senator’s final town hall of the week will be in St. Martin Parish, on Friday February 24, 2016 – 9:30AM at the Breaux Bridge City Hall.


SNAP improves diets

Small additional investments in food assistance can lead to big improvements in children’s school performance, family health and economic self sufficiency. That’s according to Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of the Brookings Institution, who Schanzenbach testified before the House Committee on Agriculture on the positive nutritional power of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The average recipient currently gets $4.50 in daily benefits. Studies show that when children receive additional benefits, they consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products, and fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. See her full report here.

Economists have strong predictions about the impact of SNAP: by increasing a family’s resources available to purchase groceries, SNAP is expected to increase both the quantity and the quality of foods purchased, and it has. When SNAP increases low-income families’ grocery purchasing power, they are able to buy more nutritious foods they otherwise could not afford. While this is a surprisingly hard question to study empirically, a recent study found that a $30 increase in monthly SNAP benefits would increase participants’ consumption of nutritious foods such as vegetables and healthy proteins, while reducing food insecurity and consumption of fast food.


Number of the Day

2– Percentage of Gross Domestic Product that is spent on federal programs for low-income people other than health care (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)