Repairing a ‘broken’ tax system

Repairing a ‘broken’ tax system

Four weeks from today the curtain will rise on the 2017 Legislature, where the top order of business will be an overhaul of Louisiana’s inadequate tax structure.

Four weeks from today the curtain will rise on the 2017 Legislature, where the top order of business will be an overhaul of Louisiana’s inadequate tax structure. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges writes that “analysts from the left and right” have studied the problem in recent years and reached very similar conclusions about what needs to be done. But that doesn’t mean legislators are on board.

The state’s bad economy has contributed to Louisiana’s fiscal problems. But in many ways, the crisis is of the Legislature’s own making. Year after year, lawmakers passed budgets that didn’t balance, and they went along with former Gov. Bobby Jindal when he swept bare every fund under the state’s control. More recently, legislators deliberately painted themselves into a corner by passing more than $1 billion of temporary taxes that expire in 2018 — an amount they will have a very hard time making up with spending cuts alone. The big question, then, when lawmakers convene on April 10, is whether they will find the courage to seek a long-term solution to the state’s tax and budget problems. Their decisions will affect every Louisiana resident and business, from Abbeville to Zachary.


Will expansion save the ACA?

Despite opposition from health insurers, hospitals, doctors, nurses and health care consumer  groups, the effort to replace the Affordable Care Act with a weak substitute that would strip health coverage from millions of Americans is moving forward in the U.S. House of Representatives. But in the Senate, at least four Republicans are expressing concern about how the American Health Care Act would affect their states. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace:

All four come from states that have expanded Medicaid availability, a key part of the original law made optional by a later U.S. Supreme Court decision. All four said in a joint statement that they remain opposed to the ACA, but argued that following the House blueprint would simply cause too much harm. “We are concerned that any poorly implemented or poorly timed change in the current funding structure in Medicaid could result in a reduction in access to lifesaving health care service,” wrote U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, in a statement that was co-signed by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado. The senators went on to acknowledge that many Medicaid beneficiaries cycle on and off the program due to “frequent changes in income, family situations, and living environments,” and that nearly a third of those covered have either a mental health or substance abuse disorder.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, visits a health clinic in rural West Virginia to look at the core contradiction in the health care debate: Many of President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters are the ones most likely to suffer if Medicaid expansion is eliminated.

Tug River Health Association treats about 8,700 patients, resulting in some 20,000 visits a year to its five clinics. In 2016, 12,284 of those visits were from patients on Medicaid, up from 5,674 in 2013, before the ACA took effect here. Without the ACA, many of those patients wouldn’t be able to afford care. Will they soon lose their coverage? Will they stop coming to the clinic? Lately, Tug River’s chief executive has been telling his staff, “The key word going forward is uncertainty.”

Closer to home, former state Rep. Melissa Flournoy reminds The Advocate’s readers that U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is a physician who once treated low-income, uninsured patients at Earl K. Long hospital in Baton Rouge.

So what happened to Bill Cassidy? In the past, Cassidy put his faith in action to care for the sick and the homeless. Now, as a U.S. senator, he puts national politics before Louisiana. What seems to make people sad is that he knows better. As my mama would say, it seems he forgot where he came from.


Momentum on prison reform

Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate, long the target of would-be reform efforts, will once again be in the spotlight this legislative session. Gov John Bel Edwards has said prison reform is a top priority, and a blue-ribbon panel has been working with the Pew Charitable Trusts on a package of reform recommendations. But as the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, the big difference this year is that influential conservative groups are taking up the reform mantle.

The influential and conservative Louisiana Family Forum is behind the effort. So is the business community, through the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, where organization President Stephen Waguespack said business leaders want to improve skills training and drug treatment for those in prison, to keep them from reoffending. The nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts said nearly four in 10 Louisiana inmates released from prison return within three years. “The primary focus for us is the re-entry side, the training that goes on, how we can make sure that that’s relevant, how we can expand the job opportunities for those guys coming out,” Waguespack said.


Hurting the poor hurts the economy

Federal programs that provide income supports, food assistance and other aid to low-income Americans aren’t just government spending. As former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin writes in The Washington Post, they are investments in children that are proven to have long-term economic benefits for the broader society.

Roughly 20 percent of U.S. children live in poverty. In the wealthiest country in the world, that’s not just a moral outrage — it’s a serious detriment to our economic future. For low-income children, Medicaid and SNAP are investments that significantly improve outcomes later in life. For example, one study found that children who received SNAP were less likely to experience stunted growth, heart disease and obesity as adults — and had graduation rates that were 18 percentage points higher. We need to do more, not less, to help these children — by providing early family intervention, better schools and housing, safer neighborhoods and much else.


Number of the Day

5.2 percent – Average wage increase in 2016 for workers in the 10th percentile in states that raised their minimum wage. In states such as Louisiana, that did not raise the minimum wage, the same workers saw a 2.5 percent wage increase. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)