What’s past is prologue

What’s past is prologue

The first full day of the second special session got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, with lawmakers on the House Ways & Means Committee (where all revenue bills must start) more interested in rehashing the past and pointing fingers of blame than talking about policy solutions.

Number of the Day

54 - Percentage of Pell Grant recipients attending LSU who graduate within six years, compared to 68 percent of non-Pell Grant students. (Source: The Third Way)

The first full day of the second special session got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, with lawmakers on the House Ways & Means Committee (where all revenue bills must start) more interested in rehashing the past and pointing fingers of blame than talking about policy solutions. A couple of lawmakers tried to chime in as the voices of reason during the four-hour airing of grievances.  The AP’s Melinda Deslatte was there:

It remained unclear when the Ways and Means Committee will even begin taking votes on proposals. (Commissioner of Administration Jay) Dardenne and Democrats on the committee stressed urgency. “We need to get down to business — cut the rhetoric from both sides,” said Rep. Major Thibaut, a Democrat from New Roads. “Let’s solve the darn problem.” Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, complained about how the committee started its tax talks: “All I’ve heard for the last two hours are excuses. The tone of the committee has been to rehash the past.”

The unproductive committee hearing led to widespread speculation that this special session may not have a happy ending, and that yet another special session may be necessary. Even more alarming, some are beginning to ponder what would happen if the legislature can’t come to agreement at all before June 30. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp:

The session must end by June 4, but already some lawmakers and other officials have raised the specter of yet another special session if the Legislature doesn’t finalize a budget by the time this one ends. The new budget [year] begins July 1. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ chief budget architect, said it’s unclear what would happen if the state reaches the next fiscal year without a budget in place. “If there’s not a budget we have a mess – an unprecedented mess,” he told the committee.

All hope is not lost, though, and today is a pivotal day for this special session. The House Ways & Means committee will reconvene and (hopefully) get down to business considering a host of sales tax measures. It’s still clear that any potential solution to the budget shortfall will center on renewing a portion of the temporary sales tax. Getting Democrats to vote for a sales tax renewal; however, will require compromise. Julia O’Donoghue with Nola.com/The Times Picayune:

On Wednesday, (Committee Chairman Neil) Abramson suggested the House Ways and Means Committee start by moving legislation that raises the sales tax and lifts sales tax exemptions — possibly as early as Thursday. Almost immediately after Abramson started talking though, African American legislators on the committee starting shaking their heads, indicating they wouldn’t be voting for that sales tax bill unless other bills also got voted out of the committee.

A group of community and nonprofit leaders sent an open letter to lawmakers this morning, echoing the concerns of legislators regarding the impact of sales tax renewal on those with the least ability to pay. The letter urges legislators to consider pairing the sales tax renewal with an increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), to make the tax code more fair to low-income working families. “Relying on a sales tax renewal without expanding the EITC would amount to balancing the state budget on the backs of low-income residents,” said the letter, which is signed by the leaders of 15 regional and statewide organizations.

You can send your own letter to your legislators to ask them to make EITC part of the budget solution by clicking here.

The effects of ACA sabotage
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and national health policy experts have been clear and in widespread agreement about how the repeal of the individual mandate and other actions to undermine the Affordable Care Act would drive up health insurance premiums. The Trump administration and leaders in Congress pushed forward with those changes despite the warnings, and now the chickens have come home to roost. CBO released a new report on Wednesday outlining the increase in premiums and projected decrease in the number of Americans with insurance.  Sam Baker with Axios explains:

The state of play: The premium for an average “benchmark” plan is 34% higher this year than in 2017, when the rules of the road had been set by the Obama administration. CBO expects premiums for the same set of plans to go up another 15% for 2019, then to level out at about 7% per year after that. As a result, CBO has also bumped up its estimates of how many Americans will be uninsured over the next decade — from 30 million to 34 million people. Why now: Insurance premiums tend to go up every year, but the magnitude of these increases stems largely from the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate, the expansion of skimpy short-term plans, and the decision last year to cut off the law’s cost-sharing payments.

 

College completion varies for Pell grantees
Pell Grants are means-tested federal grants that have a longstanding record of success in helping to make higher education affordable for low-income families. But attending college is just one step toward climbing the socioeconomic ladder, with college completion being much more critical to economic success. Recent data show that only about half of Pell Grant recipients are making it to their college graduation day. But outcomes for low-income students are not even across all institutions, with some colleges serving as exemplary models of how to ensure low-income students don’t fall through the cracks.  Wesley Whistle and Andrew Howard Nichols write for the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity Blog:

These examples clearly demonstrate that similar colleges can have very different outcomes for students and completion rates aren’t simply a byproduct of how “talented” or academically prepared students are. In fact, these comparisons suggest that what institutions do with (and for) the students they serve can make a considerable difference. Institutions have the power to improve the lives of their students if they prioritize their success and focus on achieving better outcomes. Institutions should take a hard look at their own equity gaps and figure out ways to better assist low-income students.

 

Number of the Day
54 – Percentage of Pell Grant recipients attending LSU who graduate within six years, compared to 68 percent of non-Pell Grant students. (Source: The Third Way)