One of the big decisions for legislators this spring will be what to do with all the extra money that’s lying around the Capitol. Louisiana finished last year with a $534 million surplus, and economists say there is at least $170 million in new revenue during the current fiscal year that hasn’t yet been plugged in to the budget. Now comes news, via The AP’s Melinda Deslatte, that the Legislature itself is sitting on an $86 million reserve – or nearly as much as its entire $96 million annual operating budget.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, both Republicans, said they haven’t looked at the accountant’s figures or started discussions of how they might want to spend the money since they took office a month ago. “You’re telling me something that I don’t even know,” Cortez said Tuesday. “No, I don’t have any idea what we’re going to do with it.”
A new leader for LDH
Courtney Phillips, a Louisiana native who worked in top leadership positions under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and who currently leads the state health department in Texas, was tapped on Wednesday to replace Rebekah Gee as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin and Mark Ballard report that Phillips, an LSU and Southern University graduate, will bring a different focus to the state’s largest agency:
Phillips’ strength is administration whereas Gee, a physician, focused more on policy, according to people close to the move. … Phillips will take over the health department as a multi-billion dollar procurement process for the next round of Medicaid managed care contracts are in the midst of a months-long appeals process that could head to court in the coming months. The contracts, which are awarded to a handful of companies to handle care for about 1.5 million Louisiana residents, are among the largest in state government.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continues to insist, against all evidence, that the massive 2017 federal tax cut law that showered benefits on the richest people and corporations, will eventually “pay for themselves” through economic growth. Mnuchin’s comments came as he trekked to Capitol Hill to defend President Trump’s budget proposal, and as the Congressional Budget Office expects the budget deficit to average $1.3 trillion over the next decade. David Lawder with Reuters.com has more:
Trump’s budget forecasts $4.6 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years and assumes economic growth at an annual rate of roughly 3% for years to come. Trump officials say the figures were based on an assumption that Trump’s policies would be enacted. The administration’s economic forecasts are far rosier than those of the CBO, many private economists and the International Monetary Fund, which predict fading stimulus from the tax cuts and constraints from an aging U.S. workforce.
A compromise on ‘tort reform’?
There’s been a widespread assumption for months that Gov. John Bel Edwards is on a nasty collision course with the state Legislature over “tort reform” – or changes to the civil laws governing people who are injured in car crashes. But as Sam Karlin with The Advocate reports, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez are hoping to craft a bill that can meet the governor’s approval.
While Republicans gained a supermajority in the state Senate and a near-supermajority in the House last fall, Cortez, of Lafayette, said he wants to avoid taking veto override votes. “If we really want to legislate appropriately, we want to get a bill that effects change and that the governor will sign,” Cortez said during a panel discussion moderated by LABI President Stephen Waguespack. “Because if we put ourselves in a position with all these bills where we have to override the veto, that’s not a good posture to put yourself in. Again, we have to work together to move forward.”
Number of the Day
30% – Increase in the estimated area of the Gulf of Mexico exposed to toxic pollutants by BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, according to a new study (Source: Washington Post)