It’s looking increasingly likely that Gov. John Bel Edwards will call legislators into a special session starting Feb. 19 in an effort to fill the $1 billion revenue hole caused by expiring taxes. But Edwards said he remains wary of calling lawmakers to Baton Rouge, given the lack of commitment from House Republicans to raise much-needed revenue. The governor is continuing his dialogue with House Speaker Taylor Barras. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
“I think we made some progress,” Edwards said Tuesday as he stopped at a community health center threatened with cuts. “Hopefully by Friday we’ll have something worked out.” The governor said the Republican House speaker offered some “revenue options,” though Edwards wouldn’t say what those tax proposals were. … Barras has said House Republicans won’t support taxes without passage of spending control legislation at the same time, such as tightened limits on spending growth and new cost-share and work requirements for some Medicaid patients.
Funding needed for community health centers
As lawmakers in Washington inch closer to reaching a long-term budget deal, community health centers continue to remain in limbo. These centers are crucial to Louisiana, where more than 250 federally qualified health centers provide primary care for 385,000 mostly low-income residents. Andrea Gallo, Bryn Stole and Emma Discher from the Advocate report on the frustration many feel that an issue that has traditionally had bipartisan support is tied up in the political gridlock of Washington.
But the national community health center fund that helps pay for almost 10,000 centers across the country expired Sept. 30, though lawmakers have kept the grant program limping along with temporary patches. Community health centers have struggled since then to plan for staffing needs, capital projects and more as they await confirmation on whether they will be able to keep operating. The fund provides $90 million annually to Louisiana’s community health centers. … “There really isn’t opposition to funding these health centers around the country,” the governor said. “That is really sad and is tragic, but it is where we are today in Washington.”
Return to Stelly may be non-starter
In 2002, Louisiana voters approved a tax-reform plan that eliminated the state sales tax on basic needs in exchange for higher income taxes on middle and upper-income households. The “Stelly Plan” plan provided revenue and stability for the state, but it was only temporary, as the income-tax portions of the plan were reversed in 2007 and 2008. The Advocate’s Lanny Keller explains the “self-inflicted” budget wounds the state is facing and details how a return to Stelly is popular, but irrelevant in the eyes of many legislators.
Restoring the income tax provisions of Stelly has been backed by expert panels, including conservatives nationally and in Louisiana, but the plain fact is that ideas don’t matter: Legislators fear the wrath of the wealthier of their constituents. Bandaging the wound for the good of the state appears beyond them, much less major surgery of the kind that would unsettle entrenched interest groups who pay for their expense-account steaks and campaign contributions. … Fundamentally untruthful is the notion that restoring Stelly provisions is a tax increase. The 2016 tax increase on working families — a big new sales tax, for example — is only a shifting of the burden away from the people whom legislators really obey. Hint: Not you and me.
Senate seeks compromise on two-year budget deal
After months of fits and starts, U.S. Senate leaders are getting closer to crafting a two-year budget deal. The deal would include increased defense spending supported by President Donald Trump, along with new dollars for domestic programs supported by Democrats. It also would include a hike in the federal debt limit, a disaster aid package aimed at the victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires and two years of funding for the federal community health-center program. A glaring omission from the potential budget deal is immigration reform, which is not expected to be included. The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner report:
“We’re on the way to getting an agreement and on the way to getting an agreement very soon,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed him, “I am very hopeful that we can come to an agreement, an agreement very soon.”Under tentative numbers discussed by congressional aides who were not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, defense spending would get an $80 billion boost above the existing $549 billion in spending for 2018. Nondefense spending would rise by $63 billion from its current $516 billion. The 2019 budget would include similar increases.
Number of the Day
385,000 – Number of Louisianans who receive critical primary care from community health centers. (Source: The Advocate)