The Senate Finance Committee put its stamp on the upcoming fiscal year’s state operating budget on Thursday, reversing a series of cuts to health services recommended by the House while keeping the TOPS scholarship program fully funded. The Senate also put money back into the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Education and the state’s public colleges and universities. The money came from $206 million that the House had wanted to keep in reserve, and by pushing a full month of Medicaid claims into the 2018-19 fiscal year. Still, most agencies face a 2 percent cut, as senators emphasize the budget remains “austere.” The AP’s star reporter, Melinda Deslatte, has the story:
“I think this is a very responsible approach,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican. “I think that we made some good decisions. Health spending would fall below the level Edwards sought but above the House proposal. With the Senate version, mental health services for children and adults would face reductions that the health department said would limit access to services and tighten criteria for who receives care through the programs. … Payments to the private operators of the state’s safety-net hospitals and services for the poor and uninsured also would drop next year, though senators added money to shield rural hospitals from cuts. Expecting pushback from House lawmakers, (Senate Finance Chairman Eric) LaFleur defended the Senate approach: “This is a budget that has a great deal of austerity in it.”
A new LBP blog looks at education funding, and notes that while TOPS is back to full funding, the same can’t be said for the need-based Go Grant program.
Low-income TOPS recipients who also receive a Go Grant have a 39 percent higher graduation rate compared to low-income TOPS recipients who don’t receive a Go Grant, according to the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.
The budget now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. After the Senate passes its version of the budget, it will likely head to a House-Senate compromise committee. If the two chambers can’t agree on a final version by June 8, legislators will be called into special session. As we enter the last week of session, here’s a recap of LBP analyses of the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Business tax break defeated
A program pushed by Louisiana Economic Development – the state agency tasked with spurring economic activity in the state – failed to advance out of a Senate committee Thursday. House Bill 444 would have allowed local governing bodies to make arrangements with certain corporations that would exempt them from local property taxes. Those in favor of the bill – including the Edwards administration – said the legislation was an important economic development tool. Opponents argued that the setup could encourage graft and emphasized it would be a loser for taxpayers. Tyler Bridges writes for The Advocate:
Broderick Bagert, a representative of Together Baton Rouge, a coalition of church and civic groups, warned that the bill would tempt local government officials into making sweetheart deals with businesses to get the upfront infrastructure investments. He added that local government officials would be bound by those deals, no matter how bad it was. Those arguments proved persuasive with the committee members. In an interview afterward, state Sen. JP Morrell, the committee chairman, said he could foresee businesses spending millions of dollars to elect friendly police jurors in rural parishes who would then cut a deal that provided a short-term benefit to a parish at a long-term cost to taxpayers.
TOPS changes shelved, study commissioned
Rep. Franklin Foil abandoned his attempt to raise the GPA requirement for the TOPS Opportunity Award from 2.5 to 2.75, agreeing to participate in an upcoming study of the program. The study resolution – sponsored by the Senate Education chair – would create a panel of legislators tasked with making recommendations for the program. The Advocate’s Will Sentell:
The resolution, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, would set up a task force to study TOPS, then report back to lawmakers in February. The study plan – Senate Concurrent Resolution 110 – has won Senate approval and is awaiting action in a House committee. “I plan to participate with the commission,” Foil told the Senate panel in announcing he would withdraw his bill. “I am going to ask my (House) leadership to make me part of it.”
Film program cap advances
A bill to rein in Louisiana’s film tax credit program won House approval Thursday. Senate Bill 254 would cap both the number of credits issued in a given year, and the amount that can be renewed. Tyler Bridges has the story for The Advocate:
The bill would continue to have taxpayers subsidize the filming of movies and TV shows in Louisiana but would impose limits to stabilize the cost. It includes incentives that aim to bring more productions to Louisiana and encourage more of a homegrown industry. … Under SB 254, taxpayers would continue to give up to $180 million per year to producers, but it would limit the amount of tax breaks that the state could certify to $150 million per year after three years – in an effort to reduce the backlog of credits that producers have yet to cash in. Coussan said the backlog numbers $280 million.
Number of the Day
138,000 – Jobs added to the U.S. economy in May. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via The Washington Post)