Gov. John Bel Edwards is scheduled to reveal his tax reform recommendations this afternoon at the Capitol (LBP will be writing separately about this). The centerpiece of his plan is expected to be a new gross receipts tax on businesses, which caught observers by surprise when it was floated two weeks ago because it had not been discussed by any of the groups working on tax reform. Administration officials have said their change-of-heart was prompted by the November defeat of a ballot measure dealing with a popular tax deduction. But The Advocate’s Lanny Keller doesn’t buy that excuse.
Ask about anybody in politics, and they’ll call this a lame excuse. The amendment had support from good-government groups, but the Edwards administration did little, or nothing, to advance the idea. The proposal, a compromise legislators focused on corporate income taxes, was described on the ballot only as elimination of the deduction for federal income tax paid. What was unmentioned, and unsold by Edwards or his political team, was the reduction in rates and other reforms that would have been triggered by passage of the amendment. And what else was happening on Nov. 8? Oh, only one of the hottest presidential elections of recent history that turned out large numbers of Republican voters in Louisiana casting ballots for Donald Trump. Reading what was on the ballot, with precious little other explanation, the public opted against it, but hardly in a landslide.
Showdown at BESE
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote today on several controversial changes to the state’s public school system that have caused disagreement between Superintendent of Education John White and Gov. John Bel Edwards. These changes are required under a new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte:
The governor said the plan needs more debate with teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, parents and others before submitting to the federal government. He said it includes too much required testing and too little detail about how school performance will be judged. He also raised concerns about financing changes. … White wants BESE to send the outline to federal officials next month, saying that would set up rollout of the changes starting in the 2017-18 school year. Edwards wants the education board to delay submission until mid-September, saying that will give Louisiana more time to work on the plan and put it in line with 34 other states.
While the governor insists more input is needed before the plan is finalized, White notes that his department has held 136 public meetings on the proposed changes. The Town Talk’s Miranda Klein:
White acknowledged, “I believe in choice,” but said, “the reality is … in a lot of places there isn’t but one choice, and that is to make that neighborhood school as good as it can possibly be.” … A key component (of White’s plan) is higher standards for student achievement. White said. “When we call a school an ‘A’ in Louisiana, it should be an ‘A’ in any state in the nation, because that is what our kids deserve.”
Reform or sabotage the ACA
While the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act appears dead (for now) on Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump’s administration still has the power to make drastic changes to the landmark health insurance law. The question is whether officials will use their authority to sabotage and destabilize the individual insurance markets, or to improve them in a way that makes coverage more stable and affordable. Sabrina Corlette of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute details several solutions:
While the President and others have alleged that the ACA is “collapsing,” the CBO actually concludes that the ACA’s insurance markets are likely to be stable in most places, if left unchanged. There is also emerging evidence suggesting that last year’s premium rate hikes were a one-time correction, not the start of a “death spiral” as some have claimed. But they [ACA supporters] shouldn’t be too smug. The ACA insurance markets have had their struggles.
One administrative fix the Trump administration could put in place to ensure greater market stability:
Ensure a level playing field. The continuation of health plans that do not have to comply with ACA rules, referred to as transitional or “grandmothered” plans, has perpetuated a segmented market and adverse selection against the ACA’s marketplaces. This, in turn, has led to higher premiums for people enrolled in ACA-compliant plans. Unfortunately, HHS has extended grandmothered policies for an additional year, through 2018. But states can and should consider ending the policy sooner.
Federal housing program faces cuts
Among many programs threatened by a looming congressional stalemate on the budget is federal housing vouchers, which help hundreds of thousands of low-income working families, seniors and people with disabilities keep a roof over their heads. If Congress simply renews funding for voucher programs at the same level it did last summer, local housing agencies across the country still would have to eliminate aid for 55,000 needy recipients. Unfortunately, this may be best case scenario. An effective freeze on HUD funding can be easily extended through September, eliminating 135,000 vouchers for people who need them most. Douglas Rice at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports:
The cost of renewing all vouchers now in use has risen to $18.8 billion in 2017. Rents are rising, while Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments for seniors and people with disabilities with fixed incomes — who make up about half of voucher households — haven’t kept pace. These trends, plus efforts to restore vouchers lost under the 2013 sequestration cuts and expand aid to homeless veterans, have driven renewal costs $470 million above the amounts that the appropriations committees approved in their 2017 Transportation-HUD bills last summer.
Number of the Day
500+ – Number of Louisiana public school students with disabilities who received some form of corporal punishment in 2015-16 school year. Legislation backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards for the spring legislative session aims to outlaw the practice (Source: Louisiana Department of Education )