The cost of higher education has shifted dramatically in the last decade from state taxpayers to students. The result, as Bob Mann writes in his weekly column for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, is that some some public universities now pay the state more for “mandated costs” than they receive in state funding, effectively privatizing the institutions. The cuts in state funding to higher education have forced universities to raise tuition in order to keep the doors open, making higher education accessible to fewer people.
Louisiana has not only abandoned its universities; it’s abandoned many young people. It’s now impossible for many high school graduates from low-income families to attend college. And while lawmakers struggle to fund TOPS — which aids only about a fourth of the state’s college students — they’ve done little for Go Grants, an underfunded program for students from low-income families. Those grants could make a profound difference in the lives of young people who struggle to afford college.
In the meantime, a legislative task force is considering whether to recommend raising the eligibility requirements for the popular TOPS scholarships, which currently offers financial aid to students who graduate with a 2.5 grade-point average in core courses and at least a 20 on their ACT. Even a slight increase in those minimum standards would sharply cut the number of students eligible for the scholarships. Will Sentell of The Advocate reports:
“We know a whole lot more about TOPS than when we started,” said Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Jennings and chairman of the task force. “Now we need to prepare a report.” Morrish, who is also chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he plans to hold one meeting in December and two in January to try to develop a consensus on possible changes. He said he plans to meet individually with task force members. The committee’s recommendations are due to the Legislature by Feb. 15. The 2018 regular legislative session begins on March 12.
Deficit hawks slow down Senate bill
The Senate tax bill hit a snag Thursday when the Joint Committee on Taxation showed that economic growth will cover far less of the cost of the tax cuts than supporters claim. For a handful of senators, this report was a major red flag. Among them is Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has been particularly vocal on the need to slow the growth to the deficit throughout the fast-moving process to push the tax plan through Congress. Still, a full Senate vote could come as early as today. Heather Long of The Washington Post has more:
Before the bill passes, Republicans are expected to turn to rapid-fire amendment votes on the Senate floor. Republicans have filed amendments to expand charitable deductions, repeal the estate tax and change the tax rules for marijuana. The core of the fast-moving GOP tax bill was a permanent corporate tax cut combined with tax reductions for individuals and pass-through businesses such as partnerships that expire after 2025. The bill would also repeal the mandate for individuals to have health insurance and allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The wrong fight on Medicaid
The Advocate’s Lanny Keller thinks House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry picked the wrong fight when he moved to block the state’s contracts with five managed-care companies that serve Medicaid patients. With the deals set to expire Jan. 31 – and no viable option besides renewal – Gov. John Bel Edwards used his executive authority to extend the deals without legislative approval.
This is the wrong bill, at the wrong time. And in December when the contracts were supposed to come up for a final vote on the joint budget panel, what did the Henry caucus have to gain? The best they could say is that Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera should have language in the contracts about oversight of spending. The auditors’ authority is already pretty sweeping, and it is not clear if Purpera was wise to allow his nonpartisan agency to become a part of this discussion at all. Ducking is supposed to be an essential skill in the State Capitol. It’s a partisan fight over an administrative issue, and Edwards has the upper hand on the merits.
Silence from the treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin of the US Department of Treasury has yet to weigh in on the GOP tax plan, and the Treasury inspector general has launched a probe to determine whether the Treasury has conducted an analysis and if so why it hasn’t yet been made public. Mnuchin previously stated that the tax plan would pay for itself in economic growth, a position consistent with White House claims, and promised corroborating analysis. For Bloomberg Politics, Saleha Mohsin:
Mnuchin has promised “complete transparency” about the analysis and the tax plan’s economic benefits. However, in September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Treasury had removed from its website a 2012 research paper that contradicted the Trump administration’s stance on the wage growth expected from a corporate rate tax cut.
Number of the Day
$1 trillion – The net cost of the Senate tax plan, according to analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation after factoring in an estimated $458 billion in revenue from economic growth and $51 billion over a decade in interest payments. (Source: Joint Committee on Taxation via The Washington Post)