The state’s financial uncertainty has prompted Lafayette General Health to issue ‘warn’ letters of termination to nearly 800 University Hospital and Clinics employees. Layoffs would likely occur on June 30, as the hospital would close its doors if the cuts proposed in the state budget take effect. The hospital is one of nine “public private” partnership facilities that made special financial arrangements with the state to serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured, and serve as the training grounds for doctors and nurses. The hospital operators are allowed to walk away from their state contracts if the state doesn’t honor its financial commitments. The Daily Advertiser’s Leigh Guidry.
“Lafayette General simply couldn’t keep the doors open without funding from the state,” UHC Chief Executive Officer Katie Hebert said. … Heather Smith, director of cardiopulmonary services, has worked for UHC for 20 years. She’s seen the state reach the fiscal cliff and threaten no funding, but this is the first time she’s seen it get this far – the “layoff letters.” “It’s never gotten to this level,” Smith said. “We’ve had budget cuts and we’ve lost services (over the years).” But she said the hospital and clinics have come a long way since Lafayette General Health took over in 2013. It’s heartbreaking to think that we’re going to be taking so many steps back,” Smith said. Hebert said, “It’s really not a way to take care of Louisianans. As a state, we need to figure out a way to fund health care.”
Capital construction bill advances
The bill that authorizes state construction projects – House Bill 2 – advanced out of the House on Tuesday with near unanimous support. The bill would directs $629 million for ongoing projects that include drinking water infrastructure improvements, road and bridge repairs and much needed maintenance at public universities. And, unlike last year, there is a possibility that some new projects may receive also funding. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports:
Plus, some of the new projects – the House approved $95.7 million worth – have a good possibility of also receiving funding, he said. Last year none of the new projects, in the second highest priority category, got money.That means, the state could borrow, for instance, $928,500 to finish Interstate 10 welcome center on the Texas border; $2 million towards the $4 million repair job on the LSU Memorial Tower; $49 million to increase the drainage pumping capacity in Jefferson Parish; $300,000 for New Orleans to start planning the construction of a police station on the west bank of Orleans Parish; and $15 million towards $72 million sought for the Comite River Diversion Canal, which many feel will mitigate flooding.
But another key part of the capital construction package – House Bill 3 – fell six votes shy of the 70-vote supermajority needed to pass. This bill authorizes the bond sales that pay for most of the projects in the bill. A group of two dozen Democrats blocked the legislation, likely as a negotiating tactic to force Republicans to the table to negotiate a final tax and budget deal.
House backs plan for current-year surplus
The Louisiana House passed a plan on Tuesday for how the state should spend a $300 million surplus from the last two years. The plan would allocate more than a quarter of the surplus to pay a Jindal-era debt owed to Medicaid health insurance providers. Remaining dollars would be used to pay variety of different bills including paying off legal judgements against the state, reducing the state’s retirement debt and filling current-year funding gaps for TOPS and the state’s school voucher program. The surplus is a result of higher than-anticipated tax revenue from the 2016-2017 fiscal year ($123 million) and unspent money from the current year ($176 million). The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
Among some of the largest spending plans in the two bills advanced by the House:
—$80 million would pay more than half of a back-owed debt to the managed-care companies that oversee services for most of Louisiana’s Medicaid patients. In his last year in office, former Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed back a monthly payment to help close a midyear deficit. Gov. John Bel Edwards and lawmakers have continued to postpone that payment.
—$79.7 million would be split among construction projects, such as roadwork, state building repairs, community water system improvements and other local projects.
—$42 million would pay money owed to people who successfully sued the state.
—$30.7 million would flow into the rainy day fund savings account.
—$30.5 million would be spent on a computer project aimed at moving every state agency to the same accounting and financial management system, an ongoing project that started under Jindal and has cost the state about $100 million so far.
—$21.2 million would pay FEMA for a portion of Louisiana’s share of ongoing disaster recovery efforts.
—$15.1 million would cover obligations to economic development commitments made by the state.
—$12.3 million would pay down state retirement debt.
GOP Chair talks special session
The chairman of the House Republican Delegation defended the GOP’s refusal to raise revenue during a special legislative session earlier this year, citing the fact that the budget gap shrank somewhat when the Revenue Estimating Conference identified additional revenue as a result of the recently passed federal tax plan. Speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club, Rep. Lance Harris also said he favors an early end to the regular session so legislators can convene for another special session to deal with the remaining shortfall. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp was there.
“For me personally, income tax is out,” he said. “I will not vote for anything when it comes to income taxes.” He said he thinks that the Legislature could agree to continuing a partial extension of the temporary sales tax hike that is scheduled to expire, as well as the removal of some sales tax exemptions currently on the books. “That’s going to be your two areas,” he said. He said he believes the Senate should pass a budget before the regular session’s end and then fill in areas with additional revenue raised in a special session, contrary to a push from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration’s push to end early and hold the spending plan for the special session.”
Marco Rubio goes off-message
When the GOP passed its massive tax cuts bill last year, supporters promised it would grow the economy, help the middle class and raise wages. None of those things are proving to be true, with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio as the latest detractor. Jeff Stein with The Washington Post reports:
“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” the Florida senator told the Economist in a recent interview. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.” … The remark was seized on by Senate Democrats, with the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) broadcasting it on Monday. “We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves,” wrote Schumer spokesman Matt House.
Number of the Day
15.5 percent – Percentage of of adults in the United States without health insurance. This is nearly three percentage points higher than the adult uninsured rate at the same time in 2016 – an increase of about 4 million people. (Source: Axios)