Fiscal cliff R.I.P

Fiscal cliff R.I.P

The Revenue Estimating Conference met Tuesday to update Louisiana’s revenue forecast by recognizing more than $500 million in general fund revenues approved by lawmakers during the last two special sessions.

Number of the Day

$1.4 billion - Amount of money in SNAP benefits that goes to Louisiana families each year, which are funded entirely by federal dollars. (Source: Department of Children and Family Services)

The Revenue Estimating Conference met Tuesday to update Louisiana’s revenue forecast by recognizing more than $500 million in general fund revenues approved by lawmakers during the last two special sessions. And with that, the “fiscal cliff” that had dominated discussion at the Legislature for two years was a thing of the past. Louisiana has been moving toward the cliff since lawmakers enacted temporary taxes in 2015 and 2016, which were supposed to be a bridge to long term, structural tax reform. While the reforms never came, lawmakers did manage to shore up the state’s revenue picture until 2025. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn reports:

REC approval was required before the new revenue could be plugged into the budget. The REC estimated $466 million will be generated from the signature 0.45 sales tax passed in the third Special Session that was authored by state Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge. “That’s the one everyone was biting their nails on the whole time,” said the legislative economist Greg Albrecht as he testified before the panel. Another $34 million was recognized from a bill passed in the second Special Session eliminating a tax break on out-of-state income authored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe. Total: $500 million in new taxes.

 

Surprise drop in parole and probation population
Louisiana corrections officials anticipated a reduced prison population after last year’s passage of historic criminal justice reforms. But with more people being released from prison, they also anticipated an increase in the number of people on probation and parole. New data show, however, that there are 6,107 fewer people on probation or parole than there were eight months ago. Julia O’Donoghue from Nola.com/Times Picayune explains:

The corrections agency was actually expecting an initial surge in the probation and parole population as a result of last year’s law changes. The prison system released more inmates than normal last fall, resulting in nearly 2,000 more people entering the parole and probation system. That hasn’t been the case however, largely due to a new incentive program the Legislature baked into the probation process, said Pete Fremin, the state’s probation and parole director. For the first time, probationers have an opportunity to earn credit toward an earlier release from supervision if they comply with rules and behave well.

While these numbers suggest the reform measures are working, new laws approved by Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature this session may counteract some of the recent gains.

Judges will now have to sign off on a probationer’s earlier release, which was previously the responsibility of their probation and parole officer. Prosecutors will also have the right to challenge the early end of probation for good behavior. Judges will also have the ability to extend probation for up to two years, instead of six months as called for in the 2017 law. District attorneys and judges wanted to extend all probation periods back to five years, but Edwards and lawmakers supporting criminal justice overhaul blocked that change.

 

Audit reveals questionable tracking of Medicaid payments
The Louisiana Department of Health’s tracking of payments to managed care companies that administer Medicaid services is less than seamless, according to a recent state audit. Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office reviewed data from the administrations of both former Gov. Bobby Jindal and current Gov. John Bel Edwards and found substantial room for improvement. State health officials disagree with the auditor’s assessment. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:

The report says that lax oversight makes it impossible to know if the Medicaid program is paying for things it shouldn’t be. “Without complete data that accurately identifies the provider who performed the service, who was paid for the service, where the service was provided and the level of services the provider is allowed to perform, LDH cannot effectively monitor the (companies) and decrease the risk of improper payments,” auditors wrote in the report. Health department officials said Tuesday that the audit is misleading. Michael Boutte, Medicaid deputy director, said the agency has many ways to track provider claims that auditors didn’t review. “It’s pretty clear that the auditors aren’t saying these are improper payments, and we don’t expect any improper payments,” Boutte said in an interview. “We absolutely know 100 percent of the time who the providers are submitting claims.”

 

Harm bill or farm bill?
With the Senate expected to vote on the farm bill on Thursday, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts told reporters this week that he wants the agricultural and nutrition legislation to be passed before the July 4th recess. This may prove to be a tall task, as there are key differences between the House and Senate versions. The House bill would make substantial cuts to food benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the Senate bill makes strategic improvements to the program. Marty Hayden, vice president of Policy & Legislation of Earthjustice, writing for The Hill, outlines the importance of opposing the House version of the bill.

The farm bill is supposed to be about feeding people. This bill deprives American families of nutrition by making it more difficult for families including children, seniors and persons with disabilities, to have access to food by cutting and otherwise restricting the SNAP program. Millions of Americans and their families rely on this assistance to meet their basic needs. Across the Capitol, the Senate has decided to act like the adult at the table and produced a bipartisan farm bill without the egregious and dangerous riders in the House bill. Should these bills move to conference, Senators must stand strong and reject the House’s “harm bill” and its damaging provisions.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne looks at the cruelty and bad math behind the $1 billion included in the House bill for job-training:

This looks like a big number, but it’s a fraction of what a serious national employment strategy would cost. The CBPP estimates that the funding amounts to under $30 per person per month for those who would need an employment program to keep receiving SNAP benefits. The work requirements are also poorly conceived; they would, for example, hurt those whose employers reduce their work hours.

 

Number of the Day
$1.4 billion – Amount of money in SNAP benefits that goes to Louisiana families each year, which are funded entirely by federal dollars. (Source: Department of Children and Family Services)