Minimum wage, LGBT bills advance

Minimum wage, LGBT bills advance

For the second year in a row, the Senate Labor Committee agreed to establish a minimum wage in Louisiana for the first time.

Number of the Day

212,000 - Number of Louisiana workers who would get a pay increase if Louisiana’s minimum wage is raised to $8.50 per hour (Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of U.S. Census Current Population Survey data)

For the second year in a row, the Senate Labor Committee agreed to establish a minimum wage in Louisiana for the first time. Sen. Troy Carter’s Senate Bill 153 would require workers to be paid at least $8.50 per hour starting in 2019 – and would make Louisiana the 30th state with a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 federal rate. Caitie Burkes with the Manship School News Service has the story:

State Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, said he wished more legislators had the “cojones” to pass the minimum wage bill, which he said “takes a wrong turn” every session it is brought up. “The vast majority of individuals who live here know that this is the right thing to do,” Bishop said, citing a Louisiana Budget Project survey that found 70 percent of Louisianans support a higher state minimum wage. Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said 42 percent of Louisiana households struggle to meet a “survival budget.” He reported only 10 percent of minimum wage workers are teenagers, two-thirds are women and half are African-American.

The committee also advanced a second bill by Carter that would ban workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that influential business organizations remained neutral on the LGBT protection bill. These organizations have opposed similar bills in the past. Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue reports:

Stephen Waguespack, LABI’s president and chief executive officer, confirmed his organization is neutral on the 2017 legislation. The National Federation of Independent Business’ local chapter also isn’t opposed to the legislation, after objecting to a similar measure last year. “We don’t have a position on it,” said Dawn Starns, Louisiana state director of the federation. “I don’t know any business folks [who] have a position on it.” The larger organizations have argued in the past that providing such protections would open employers to more discrimination lawsuits. It’s not clear why they have changed their perspective this year, given that Carter’s bill is the same as one he offered last year. “I was surprised that they didn’t oppose it,” Carter said.


Special session increasingly likely

The Legislature’s failure thus far to address the $1.3 billion “fiscal cliff” means it’s increasingly likely that a special session will be needed to fix Louisiana’s broken tax code. So said Gov. John Bel Edwards during his monthly call-in radio show on Wednesday. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte was listening.

Most tax bills must start in the House, and no large revenue-raising tax bills have received backing there so far amid strong anti-tax sentiment in the majority-Republican chamber. While three weeks remain in the legislative session, Edwards acknowledged the dismal outlook for tax bills. A day before Edwards’ comments on the radio, the House overwhelmingly rejected the first significant proposal to come up for a vote that would raise money to fill the looming shortfall, a bill to permanently scrap millions of dollars in sales tax breaks. “Every day it looks more and more likely that we’ll have to have a special session,” the governor said.


Profiting from “donations”

Receiving a good return on investment is the goal of any investor, but most would agree that super-wealthy individuals and corporations shouldn’t turn a profit through the state and federal tax code. But a new report  says that’s exactly what’s happening thanks to generous state tax rebates and deductions for donations to so-called school tuition organizations. Erica Green with the New York Times writes about the findings by the School Superintendents Association and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy:

“What we found was really shocking,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director of policy and advocacy at AASA, who was an author of the report. … The study called it a “get-rich scheme for shrewd taxpayers.” The report focuses on tuition tax credit programs used by some states to help low-income students afford private schools. In these states, individuals and corporations donate to nonprofit “scholarship-granting organizations,” which then distribute the funds to parents. The amount of the contribution can be subtracted dollar-for-dollar from the donor’s state tax bill.

Senate Bill 95 sponsored by Sen. Blade Morrish would change Louisiana’s current rebate into a nonrefundable 95 percent tax credit with a three-year carryforward. The legislation would not allow “donors” to take any additional Louisiana tax credits in conjunction with the school tuition organization “donation” credit, but they would still be able to claim a federal charitable deduction, which means some people and corporations could still profit through Louisiana’s program.


Medicaid is the best option

The American Health Care Act, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, would cut $880 billion from Medicaid over the next decade. However, Michael Sparer with the New York Times explains why members of the GOP should be working to allow individuals to buy into Medicaid systems instead of cutting it. Doing so could fix some of the problems with health-insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.  

Why has Medicaid become the nation’s largest health insurance program, with over 70 million enrollees, even though both conservatives and liberals criticize it? First, it has surprisingly strong support from hospitals and nursing homes, insurers and states, which receive federal funds to help finance care. Second, since Medicaid is administered in different ways by different states, it cannot be labeled a monolithic national program. Third, its cost is shared among federal, state and local governments. Finally, Medicaid works: It provides access to good-quality care for low-wage Americans and more secure funding for the medical safety net.

Sparer proposes that people who now buy coverage through exchanges be allowed to buy into Medicaid, with the premiums offset by tax credits.

Moderates in both parties recognize that the chance of success for an insurance marketplace that serves only the self-employed, part-time workers and small businesses, as Obamacare does now, is small. So why not eliminate the insurance exchanges — enabling Mr. Trump to claim he “repealed” Obamacare — while allowing exchange beneficiaries to buy into Medicaid, using tax credits to pay the premiums. Recent surveys showing that Medicaid beneficiaries are generally satisfied with their coverage, more so than their exchange counterparts, makes the case even more persuasive.


Number of the Day

212,000 – Number of Louisiana workers who would get a pay increase if Louisiana’s minimum wage is raised to $8.50 per hour (Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of U.S. Census Current Population Survey data)