The state operating budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year is on its way to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk after the Louisiana Senate approved it this morning on a 26-9 vote. The bill shielded higher education, the Department of Children and Family Services, Corrections and veterans services from cuts. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue has the story:
“It’s a good budget. It’s a conservative budget,” said Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, head of the Senate Finance Committee. “The only winner here — it’s not the Senate or the House — it’s the state.” The state budget approved by the Legislature fully funds the TOPS scholarship for the next school years, gives higher education more funding that it has seen in a decade and will provide a pay raise to 38,000 state employees in 2018.
As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, the latest version of the budget that was passed by the House on Tuesday, and subsequently passed by the Senate today, is almost identical to the one that House leaders rejected last week, which triggered the current special session.
Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, a Ville Platte Democrat, noted the proposal is similar to a previous budget version backed by senators that didn’t win final passage, a spending plan that keeps most agencies and the TOPS college tuition program free of cuts without raising taxes. “This is the same bill that we passed out a couple of weeks ago that we thought was responsible,” LaFleur said. “It was very good when we sent it out.”
The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace writes that the entirely avoidable special session shows a lack of planning by leadership in the House.
If there was some grand strategy to secure a different outcome, it never materialized. Instead, the governor and Senate-endorsed framework wound up with House votes to spare, despite the chamber’s Republican majority. Thirteen Republicans voted for a budget that their own leadership opposed, leaving Barras and GOP caucus chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, on the losing end of the roll call.
Governor signs criminal justice reform bills
Highlighting one of the bright spots of the 2017 legislative session, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed 10 bills aimed at reducing Louisiana’s prison population, decreasing the number of people who commit crimes after being released, while also saving the state money. The package is estimated to reduce the ranks of the incarcerated by 10 percent while also saving the state $78 million over the next decade. Nola.com/The Time-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue reports:
Many of the changes — such as letting prisoners forego paying child support and shortening sentences for people already behind bars — were not politically easy votes. But legislators stepped up to the plate and made them, he (Gov. John Bel Edwards) said. “All of the people in this room — not just the legislators — rejected the notion that we needed to play it safe,” Edwards said. “That’s what leadership is about: We have to do the things that are hard. If you are only going to name highways and prestige license plates, let somebody else run for the office.”
AHCA would have devastating impact on children
A new report shows that 3 million children would be among the 23 million people who would lose coverage under the “healthcare” bill approved by the U.S. House last month. The American Health Care Act would also have negative effects for children with disabilities and special health care needs. Jessica Schubel with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:
Medicaid plays a critical role in the lives of children with special health care needs by ensuring access to affordable health care services that they need to stay healthy and succeed in life. Faced with deep and growing cuts from a per capita cap or block grant, states would likely shut down pathways to Medicaid coverage for low- and moderate-income children with special health care needs and jeopardize their access to benefits that help them live at home and in their communities.
A New Orleans pediatrician, Dr. Kimberly Mukerjee, wrote a guest column for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune about the potential impacts of the AHCA on Louisiana’s kids:
While this debate becomes less of a conversation about the needs of the American people and more of a political agenda item to cross off the to-do list, millions of families are increasingly nervous about what these changes will mean for their children. … Pediatricians know what’s best when it comes to the health of a child. It is our job and passion to ensure the health and well being of the youngest members in our communities. The AHCA pulls the rug of stability out from beneath kids’ feet in a cruel and unnecessary manner. But don’t take my word for it. Parents know even better about the importance of access to health care for their kids. Ask the mother of an uninsured child about the desperation she feels when her child cannot receive a life-saving medication. Talk to parents who depend on Medicaid to keep their children healthy and provide a ladder up out of poverty.
Solving Louisiana’s economic, fiscal woes
While Louisiana economist Greg Albrecht believes we’re almost clear of the state’s recession, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune columnist Bob Mann takes a look at some ways the state can spur a thriving economy with broad prosperity. He cites reports that indicate key investments in education will go a long way. He first looks at a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Erica Williams:
One example state leaders should consider, the CBPP says, is universal preschool: “High-quality preschool improves not only children’s academic performance but also the quality of a state’s workforce and jobs over time.” The CBPP also offers sound advice about supporting existing entrepreneurs and startups as opposed to wasting revenue on economic development programs to lure corporations from other locales.
Next, Mann points to a study from the Richmond Federal Reserve that comes to a similar conclusion: key investments, not tax cuts are the way to improve state economies.
Under the heading “Can States Do Anything?” the author cited widespread agreement among economists “that states can increase the productivity of their future workforce by improving their education systems, possibly through greater funding.” As one economist quoted in the article said, “The single biggest improvement that states can make to improve their economies in the long run would be to improve K-12 education performance. You’ll hear that from almost any economist you talk to.”
Number of the Day
3 million – Number of children who would lose health insurance coverage under the American Health Care Act (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)