Gov. John Bel Edwards has said time and again that he is flexible and willing to negotiate on potential solutions to the state’s $1.5 billion fiscal shortfall. Many legislators and stakeholder groups are working closely with the governor to hash out a solution, but some business groups and far-right legislators seem more interested in obstructing any proposed solutions than coming to the negotiating table with their own ideas. This leaves the people of Louisiana at risk of seeing major cuts to funding for education, health care, public safety and other priorities. Stephanie Riegel with the Baton Rouge Business Report:
Though a comprehensive overhaul has the support of big business groups like the Committee of 100 for Economic Development and good government groups like the Council for A Better Louisiana, there’s also small business advocates and a powerful far-right segment in the Legislature more interested in defeating anything the Democratic governor proposes than in crossing the aisle to come up with a solution. Still, Edwards says he is optimistic lawmakers from across the political spectrum will be willing to work with him this year, in no small measure because the stakes are so much higher. Last year, the “fiscal cliff” was a year away. Now, it’s upon us.
Governor: federal tax cut should lower utility bills
Privately owned companies that provide public utilities stand to gain immensely this year from the corporate income tax cut enacted by Congress in December. In Louisiana, those private companies are regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC), and on Wednesday Gov. Edwards asked the PSC to review the impact of the tax cuts on the state’s utility companies and determine to what extent utility rates should be reduced for customers. Mark Ballard with The Advocate has the story:
“He’s right,” PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell said of fellow Democrat Edwards’ letter released Thursday. “If these investor-owned companies get a break, they need to pass it down.” Edwards pointed out that Dominion Energy announced plans to lower rates in South Carolina partially because of the new federal tax law and suggested that Louisiana utilities follow suit. Businesses would receive about a 14 percent reduction in tax rates under the recently signed federal “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” a savings that should translate in Louisiana utility customers paying less, Edwards wrote.
The truth about “association health plans”
President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out regulations on Thursday that would loosen restrictions on “association health plans” – where groups of businesses band together to buy health coverage for themselves and their employees. The proposed new rules would make is easier for small businesses and self-employed individuals to opt into the association health plans, which are not subject to many of the consumer protections created by the Affordable Care Act. Because the plans offer skimpier coverage and fewer protections, they are cheaper, which is attractive to younger, healthier workers. This bifurcation of the health insurance market could create major problems for people who need or want comprehensive health insurance. The New York Times’ Robert Pear reports:
Association health plans, they say, will tend to attract employers with younger, healthier workers, leaving behind sicker people in more comprehensive, more expensive plans that fully comply with the Affordable Care Act. That could drive up premiums, which already have risen steadily as Republicans have taken aim at President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. “Those with serious health conditions like cancer would be left paying ever-increasing premiums for comprehensive coverage,” said Chris Hansen, the president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “The rule proposed today will almost certainly result in more people facing financial distress when an unexpected health crisis happens.”
The loosely regulated association health plans would also leave consumers vulnerable to fraudsters:
Marc I. Machiz, who investigated insurance fraud as a Labor Department lawyer for more than 20 years, said the proposed rules were an invitation to more scams. “Any idiot with a word processor can create an association in 10 minutes and market it to small employers and individuals who certify that they are self-employed,” Mr. Machiz said. “The employers and individuals will pay premiums. By the time they discover they’ve been sold a fraudulent product, the promoter will be on his way to the Caribbean.”
Local impacts of criminal justice reform
The positive effects of Louisiana’s landmark criminal justice reform effort are being noticed at the local level. Nonviolent offenders who were able to return home to their families in November are filling a void in communities across the state. The editorial board for the Houma Today newspaper reflects on the importance of the changes in their region of the state:
At the local level, the change is already having a positive impact. Of the 1,900 prisoners who were released early on Nov. 1, 90 are from Terrebonne or Lafourche. That’s 90 people who are now free to enter the workforce and participate more fully in their families’ lives. And that’s 90 families who are able to live without the incredible hardship imposed by having a loved one in prison. Since these are people who were convicted of non-violent offenses, all the benefits of these changes can occur without any negative impact on public safety. In fact, the changes should, if anything, result in an improvement to public safety by putting a more concerted focus on preventing crime and reducing recidivism.
Number of the Day
151 – Baton Rouge’s rank on the list of Best Places to Find a Job in 2018, out of 182 U.S. cities. New Orleans ranks 177 and Shreveport took the last spot at 182. (Source: WalletHub)