Thirteen days from today marks the start of the 2018-19 state fiscal year. If the Legislature fails to craft a revenue deal by then, Louisiana faces the specter of unprecedented cuts to higher education, public safety and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which puts food on the table for nearly 1 in 5 Louisianans. While some conservatives in the House are hoping to re-start budget negotiations, the Legislature has just one job during the 10-day special session that gets underway today: Pass enough revenue to pay for the items that were left “below the line” in the budget bill. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that the biggest question remains the House, where GOP members are divided:
In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats were largely in lock-step about a proposal to patch together next year’s budget with a $500 million sales tax bill that was less than the governor wanted but that he supported. The House was not as unified. Democrats largely backed the Senate plan. But the GOP delegation in the chamber, which makes up 61 of 103 lawmakers, was split in three factions. One portion backed Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras and House GOP leader Lance Harris in supporting a smaller sales tax than Edwards wants. Another portion supported the Senate proposal backed by Edwards. A final group refused to support any taxes.
Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue writes that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry is leading the effort to reopen the budget bill that he sponsored – and voted for – during the last special session and which has been signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards. That’s unlikely to pass muster with the Senate.
“I don’t think that the call allows for the entire budget to be reopened,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said. “We’ve already voted on it,” Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said of the budget. “We were glad to see that wasn’t part of the call. My God, we’ve done that thing four times.”
High stakes for higher education
No area of state government has been hit harder in recent years by state budget cuts than public colleges and universities. And the schools are once again on the chopping block in the upcoming special session, as LBP’s Davante Lewis outlines in a new policy brief that lays out the latest threats and why they are important to Louisiana’s economic future.
Louisiana’s economic future depends on an educated and well-trained workforce. The state’s public colleges and universities play a vital role in developing workers with the knowledge and skills needed for 21st century jobs. In 2015, only 30 percent of working age adults in Louisiana had an associate’s degree or higher. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce predicts that by 2020, 56 percent of jobs in Louisiana will require some postsecondary education and training – pointing to the need for additional investment in institutions of higher education. Unfortunately, Louisiana has scaled back its investment in higher education over the last decade, and cuts are a real possibility again in fiscal year 2019.
In a similar vein, the heads of the four state university systems joined with the chairman of the Board of Regents in crafting a joint letter to the Legislature stressing the importance of full funding.
Collectively, our institutions create over $10 billion in economic impact annually in the state and generate thousands of jobs across Louisiana. In today’s economy, a postsecondary credential is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. … The presence of highly educated and talented people is a hallmark of dynamic and thriving economies, and colleges and universities are the idea generators for growing that kind of economy. Studies consistently show a positive correlation between educational attainment,wages and increased economic impact for local and state government. Simply put, we need stable funding to sustain our role in fueling increased economic development.
Don’t forget about SNAP
While higher education faces the biggest cuts – in dollar amounts – next year if a revenue deal doesn’t materialize, the most damaging reductions could come to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps feed nearly 900,000 Louisiana citizens. While the program is unpopular among some conservatives, LBP’s Jeanie Donovan reminds us in a new blog that two-thirds of the food benefits go to children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
DCFS Secretary Marketa Walters explained that she chose SNAP because she is unwilling to cut other major areas of her agency’s budget, including child welfare services. A $34.7 million cut elsewhere in the social services budget would cripple the state’s ability to investigate child abuse and neglect, monitor children who are taken from their parents, and oversee the foster care program.
For more on the critical importance of SNAP, check out (and please share) a new video by LBP’s Dylan Waguespack.
Weekend editorial roundup
Even if the Legislature agrees to renew half of the expiring “clean penny” of sales tax – the minimum required to avoid cuts to state priorities – it won’t solve the state’s long-term structural budget gap. So warns The Advocate’s editorial board, which notes that lawmakers cast aside any plans for tax reform last year in favor of the short-term patches now on the table.
We’re not a normal state. For decades, oil and gas money paid the bills that in other states came from the broad mass of taxpayers. Our people have come to expect low-cost services. But revenues from oil and gambling, along with the one-time money raided from trust funds during the Bobby Jindal years, have all failed to permanently bridge the structural deficit gap. One reason is the endless subsidies of local government from the state, paying local police a pay supplement, for example. “You come every year to the State Capitol to ask for handouts to pay for local needs,” says (Commissioner of Administration Jay) Dardenne, “although local officials don’t want to hear that.”
Mark Ballard writes in his Sunday column that Louisiana’s top business lobbyist agrees with his former colleagues in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration that it’s time to fix the budget.
Now head of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, (Stephen) Waguespack noted that the state’s powerful lobbying group had agreed to the .5 percent increase during the special session that ended without resolution earlier this month. “We recognize that business pays 48 percent of any portion” of the state sales tax, Waguespack said. “We said, ‘Look, we’ll play our part. We’re staying at the table and giving suggestions.’ Even more important than policy at this point is for everyone to get in the same room and listen to each other, to tone down the rhetoric on social media and traditional media. It’s time for all of them to put down their swords.”
Number of the Day
$67.5 million – Annual cost to the state of administering the food assistance program (SNAP). A $34.7 million cut would force the program to shut down during the 2018-19 fiscal year (Source: LBP via House Fiscal Division)