The annual capital construction bill has always served a two-part purpose: First, it provides dollars for state construction projects – everything from office buildings and museums to local priorities like sewer upgrades or a new fire station. Second, it has served as an enticing carrot that the governor can dangle before legislators as a way of corralling votes on tough issues. But as The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports, former Gov. Bobby Jindal ran up the tab on the state’s credit card. And that has left Gov. John Bel Edwards in control of fewer construction dollars – and political clout – than his recent predecessors.
The Jindal-era spree and the state’s economic recession have left Edwards with much less to spend than lawmakers want. The governor can authorize only $935 million in capital outlay spending for next year, down from $1.44 billion during Jindal’s final year, Moses said. Edwards is making less capital outlay money available for hometown projects next year by continuing the Jindal ones to completion and also by directing much of the available new dollars to roads and deferred building maintenance — which the governor says are the state’s most important priorities.
The lack of money – and changing priorities – has created problems for Edwards among Democrats, who complain that too much money is going to the districts of officials who don’t support him.
Gas tax gets first hearing
Louisiana’s transportation infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade, and the most sensible way to do that is by raising the state’s gasoline tax for the first time in 27 years. But the House Ways & Means Committee seems determined to avoid raising revenues this session, so The Advocate’s Will Sentell writes that prospects for passage appear dim.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, who had his own tax measure battered and killed by Ways and Means earlier this month, said he doubts any gas tax increase will emerge from the House. “That is just the reality of the situation,” Havard said. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said Friday he too doubts there is enough support.
The painful truth about teeth
It’s no secret that the gap between rich and poor in America has widened dramatically in recent years. One of the ways this divide has manifested itself is in dental health. The Washington Post assigned two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists to look at the way straight, white teeth have become a signifier of wealth, while millions of low-income adults can’t afford common procedures.
High-end cosmetic dentistry is soaring, and better-off Americans spend well over $1 billion each year eldjust to make their teeth a few shades whiter. Millions of others rely on charity clinics and hospital emergency rooms to treat painful and neglected teeth. Unable to afford expensive root canals and crowns, many simply have them pulled. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans older than 65 do not have a single real tooth left.
Elderly care must improve
The inimitable Jim Beam read The Advocate’s three-part series about the political clout of Louisiana’s nursing home industry and came away convinced that the state needs to do a better job distributing resources that help the elderly and people with disabilities. In his Lake Charles American-Press column, Beam notes that little has changed in the past 20 years. Then, as now, too much money gets funneled to nursing homes at the expense of home- and community-based services.
“If you can identify people in nursing homes who can live cheaper and better in their community, then we’ll help them out,” (former state Sen. Joe) McPherson (who owns nursing homes) said. “They don’t exist.” A United Health Foundation report said otherwise. It found that 14.2 percent of Louisiana nursing home residents are considered “low-care” and don’t require physical assistance for daily living. The Advocate reported that a U.S. Department of Justice investigation released in December found that many Louisiana nursing homes are failing to do their part to identify patients who want to transition back to their homes.
Fiddling while the budget burns
Instead of addressing the root cause of Louisiana’s chronic budget shortfalls – insufficient revenue to support basic services – several Louisiana lawmakers have decided the problem lies with the way the state budget is constructed. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp looks at some of the proposals making their way through the Legislature.
The ideas range from freeing up funds normally restricted from cuts to changing how much money the Legislature can spend to making sure that legislators have more information about the way funds are being used. … House Republicans already are trying to radically change the process by appropriating only 97.5 percent of the funding that has been recognized as being available to spend in the coming year, citing the state’s 15 midyear deficits in the past nine years.
Number of the Day
39 – Percentage of an average teacher’s income in New Orleans that goes toward housing, making the Crescent City the 10th most unaffordable city for teachers. Federal guidelines suggest families spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing (Source: Jarvis DeBerry via San Francisco Chronicle)