The House of Representatives returned to work Monday in an attempt to finish the job it couldn’t complete during the regular session. With only one task on its plate, the House Appropriations Committee heard from agency heads and state budget officials about the potential effects of the reductions favored by House leaders. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue reports that the debate hasn’t changed since last week’s unseemly meltdown:
The Senate and Edwards are still in favor of their budget proposal. The House leadership still wants a different approach that spends less money and requires more cuts upfront. “I think the basic discussions will be the same,” House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said of special session budget negotiations. Alario, Barras and other budget leaders haven’t met since Thursday, when the House ended the regular session with members on their feet yelling at their speaker and voting against his wishes.
The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports that the House cuts would affect everything from Zika prevention to food assistance.
The Department of Health would have to scale back mental health programs and abandon Zika virus prevention efforts. The state’s food stamp program, which is federally funded but must be administered with some state dollars, could be at risk, and a money-saving technology consolidation won’t take place, according to the Division of Children and Family Services. LSU has become a prime “poaching ground” as lower-level professors eye opportunities for stability and growth in other states that could worsen without a commitment to funding higher education.
At the heart of the debate is a dispute over revenue estimates – and whether the Legislature should continue to rely on a time-tested process that grew out of the last major budget crisis. In a new commentary, LBP’s Jan Moller looks at the Revenue Estimating Conference.
In the last few years, as the state economy has stalled amid low energy prices, the national recession and the end of post-hurricane reconstruction, state revenues have often come in below the official forecast. But for most of its history, the opposite was true. In October 2011 the Legislative Fiscal Office reviewed the first 23 years of REC forecasts and found that 78 percent (19 of 23) of the forecasts issued before the session (i.e., the ones used to build the budget) ended up being lower than the actual revenues.
Report: Don’t weaken essential health benefits
The health bill that the U.S. Senate is crafting in secrecy would reportedly give states the option of waiving “essential health benefits” that require plans sold in the individual and small-group markets to cover benefits such as prescription drugs and mental health. As Sarah Lueck of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, doing away with this provision would mean breaking the promise made by Republicans that their healthcare bill will protect people with pre-existing conditions.
If states scale back EHBs, many insurers will offer plans with skimpier coverage and lower premiums to attract young and healthy people. As a result, individuals with significant medical conditions might not be able to find plans with the comprehensive coverage they need. And if they were able to find such plans, the plans would charge much higher premiums — because, by and large, only less healthy people would enroll in them.
Class and meritocracy in America
The idea of America as a meritocracy – where anyone can rise to the top based on their own hard work – is deeply embedded in the national psyche. But Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institution, who was raised in Britain’s rigid class structure, writes in The New York Times that housing and education policies help the American upper middle class perpetuate itself at the expense of everyone else.
The United States is the only nation in the world, for example, where it is easier to get into college if one of your parents happened to go there. Oxford and Cambridge ditched legacy preferences in the middle of the last century. The existence of such an unfair hereditary practice in 21st-century America is startling in itself. But I have been more shocked by the way that even supposedly liberal members of the upper middle class seem to have no qualms about benefiting from it. … Exclusionary zoning practices allow the upper middle class to live in enclaves. Gated communities, in effect, even if the gates are not visible. Since schools typically draw from their surrounding area, the physical separation of upper-middle-class neighborhoods is replicated in the classroom. Good schools make the area more desirable, further inflating the value of our houses.
Minimum wage not enough to pay for a one-bedroom apartment:
Louisiana has the highest percentage of its workforce (5.3 percent) earning at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. And a new report finds that it isn’t even close to making a typical one-bedroom apartment affordable. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that a minimum worker must put in 74 hours a week just to afford an apartment at market rates. Sam Karlin of the Baton Rouge Business Report:
The study says Louisiana ranks 30th in the country for “highest housing wage,” a metric measuring the ability of low-wage workers to afford rents. A Louisiana worker must earn $16.16 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental without spending more than 30% of their income on housing. At $7.25 an hour, the average American worker would need to work nearly three full-time jobs—a total of 117 hours per week—just to afford the average two-bedroom rental. In East Baton Rouge Parish, someone earning minimum wage would have to work 91 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental.
Number of the Day
62 – Percentage of health plans sold in the individual market that did not cover maternity care in 2011, before the Affordable Care Act took effect. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)