The Daily Dime: October 2012

The Louisiana Budget Project’s “The Daily Dime” is a morning overview of news regarding state budget issues affecting low and moderate income families, written by policy analyst David Gray. To receive it directly in your inbox email davidgray@lano.org.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The Jindal administration’s proposal to eliminate 177 jobs at the Office of Group Benefits by privatizing a state employee health plan faces a critical vote by a joint legislative committee on Thursday.

A day after New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu criticized state government for making cuts to health-care, higher education and other services, a spokesman for the Division of Administration threw gasoline on the fire by blaming the city for, among other things, failing to spend its entire allotment of hurricane-recovery money after the 2005 storms.

John Maginnis said the Legislature’s failure to call itself into special session sent a clear message that lawmakers do not want their fingerprints anywhere near the health-care cuts in the LSU hospital system.

A record number of Louisiana voters took advantage of early voting this year. Early voting is up 25 percent from 2008, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The Assumption Parish sinkhole has costs the state $2.2 million to date, and the Department of Natural Resources does not know when the emergency will end. Although DNR is paying for the emergency response through its own budget, it will seek reimbursement from Texas Brine, the company blamed for causing the sinkhole.

Several universities and corporations have thrown their support behind affirmative action policies. Duke University, Stanford University, Williams College, Amherst College, American Express, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Intel, and General Electric are among the group that filed amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the University of Texas, Austin after LSU alumni Abigail Fisher brought an affirmative case against the university.

Please remember to vote on November 6. Click here to locate your voting location, and click here to learn more about proposed constitutional amendments.

2 million – The amount of money going into the state’s economy per each physician that completes their medical practice in Louisiana. (Source: Louisiana State Medical Society)

 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The Louisiana State Medical Society is worried about the impact of the recent health-care cuts on doctor-training programs. The physicians’ group held an emergency meeting of its board last week and invited LSU officials to attend, but no one from the university showed up.

Fishers along the Gulf Coast have until Thursday to accept their share of BP’s $2.3 billion settlement fund for the losses suffered in the 2010 oil spill. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says last year’s shrimp harvest dropped as much as 50 percent.

Louisiana’s Public Service Commission will begin hearings Wednesday to consider leveling penalties against Entergy for its pre-storm preparations and response during Hurricane Isaac. Entergy was responsible for restoring power to 787,000 of the 900,000 customers that lost power.

The Gambit takes a detailed look at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s increased use of the “deliberative process” loophole to evade the state Public Records Act.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and state Treasurer John Kennedy disagree on whether recent rate increases by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. were legal. The state-sponsored insurer of last resort raised its rates for wind and hail coverage to ensure that it remains a last-ditch option for people who can’t find private insurance.

A conservative think tank says Louisiana’s teachers unions are among the weakest in the country.

The average costs for a gallon of gas dropped in Louisiana over the past month, although it is still higher than it was this point one year ago. According to AAA, the average cost for a gallon of regular gas is currently $3.386, lower than the $3.595 average one month ago but higher than the $3.301 average one year ago.

Finally, today is the last day to early vote in advance of Tuesday’s election. Early voting is open at designated voting locations from 8:30am to 6:00pm.


226,956 – The number of individuals who early voted in Louisiana as of Oct. 29. (Source: The Shreveport Times)

 

Monday, October 29, 2012
Members of the LSU Board of Supervisors were surprised to find out that the medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport depend on revenue from hospital operations, and that cutting those hospital services will thus create ripple effects in medical education.  LSU health chief Dr. Frank Opelka said the recent hospital cuts that will snuff out 1,500 jobs will result in an additional $83 million shortfall for medical school programs.

LSU merged two top administrative positions late Friday in a vote that caught many people off guard. The Board of Supervisors consolidated LSU’s system president and chancellor of the LSU Baton Rouge campus to make the position more attractive for potential applicants. Yet, some key stakeholders, including the chairman of the LSU Faculty Senate, were not informed that the resolution would be proposed.

There will not be a special session of the Legislature to review Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget cuts.

Nearly 45 million Americans could lose health coverage if Mitt Romney is elected president, says economist Paul Krugman notes in his New York Times column, which notes that Medicaid is significantly better at controlling costs than other parts of our health care system.

The U.S. Supreme Court will review the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to determine where a portion of the law that requires certain states to receive federal approval before changing how they hold elections is constitutional. The states covered by the law, including Louisiana, publically supported racial discrimination at the time of the law’s creation. Congress compiled a 15,000-page record of instances of apparent voting discrimination in the states covered by the law dating to 1982.

The U.S. economy continued its rebound in the third quarter, expanding at an annual rate of two percent. The better-than-forecasted projections signify that consumers are feeling more optimistic about the nation’s economic recovery. Residential investment also increased at an annual rate of 14.4 percent, compared to 8.5 percent in the second quarter.

Don’t forget to vote. Early voting is open at designated voting locations from 8:30am to 6:00pm until tomorrow (Oct. 30).

167 – The number of amendments to the Louisiana Constitution since it was rewritten in the 1970’s. (Source: NECN)

 

Friday, October 26, 2012
Louisiana’s Alternative Fuel Tax Credit
is back in the spotlight after the Department of Revenue held a quick hearing on the subject and said a new rule will be in place by Dec. 20 that makes flex-fuel vehicles ineligible for the credit. The change is expected to reduce the state’s annual exposure to $10 million, significantly less than the $250 million price tag under the old rules.

Critics from the left and right suspect the dramatic one-year leap in Louisiana’s school performance scores has more to do with procedural changes to the state’s testing rules than improved academic achievement.

The president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education foresees no changes to how the state oversees private and parochial schools that accept voucher students. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan pushed for the hearing over concerns that policies governing private and parochial schools need to be more stringent.

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center gave Louisiana children a “D” for overall health and fitness in a new report. Only 24 percent of high school students get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, the group says. Louisiana received an even lower grade, “D-” for neighborhood characteristics, such as safety and access to recreation areas.

A legal battle may be brewing between Texas Brine Co. and Assumption Parish officials over who is responsible for paying a $321,000 in overtime costs and other expenses associated with a 5.5 acre sinkhole likely caused by the Houston-based company’s failed salt cavern.

Finally, don’t forget to vote! Early voting is open at designated voting locations from 8:30am to 6:00pm until Oct. 30. Voting locations will be closed Sunday, Oct. 28.

31 – Louisiana’s national ranking for average weekly wage in the first quarter of 2012 (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

 

Thursday, October 25, 2012
The mood in DeQuincy is somber as the Nov. 1 closing date for Phelps Correctional Center approaches and 167 corrections staff will be officially unemployed. Gov. Bobby Jindal closed the prison in a surprise announcement Sept. 14, claiming it would save the state $2.6 million in the current fiscal year and $11.85 million next year.

Louisiana will receive $18.6 million from five drug companies that fraudulently inflated Medicaid program prescription drug costs. A total of 109 companies are accused of improperly reporting drug prices to increase Medicaid reimbursements in Louisiana.

Some of the strongest opposition to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program is coming from the Republican redoubt of St. Tammany Parish, where residents are worried that the state dollars going to private schools means the parish’s “A”-rated public schools are being cheated.

A computer-based teaching program at the center of Mose Jefferson’s 2009 bribery trial is entering the second round to offer online classes to public school students. JRL is taking advantage of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform, which included a provision to provide students with more educational opportunities outside of the classroom.

While Louisiana public schools reported sharp improvement in test scores this year, some question whether the momentum can be maintained as the state’s graduation exit exams become more difficult and changes are made to the formula that’s used to measure a school’s “graduation index.”

State regulators questioned Entergy’s President and CEO about the company’s performance following Hurricane Isaac. Although 780,000 customers lost power during the storm, Entergy officials said they were pleased with the “good restoration” of services to 90 percent of their customers within a week.

Don’t forget to vote. Early voting is open at designated voting locations from 8:30am to 6:00pm until Oct. 30. Voting locations will be closed Sunday, Oct. 28.

72 – The percent of low-income children in Louisiana (under 200 percent FPL) covered by Medicaid in 2011 (Source: StateHealthFacts.org)

 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A state Senator from Monroe thinks John White may have lied to the Legislature during his confirmation hearing in May when he was pressed about the state’s process for approving private schools for Louisiana’s new voucher program. Although the Superintendent of Education told the committee that a two-step approval process existed for months, emails received by the Monroe News-Star show that White created the new verification phase in the hours leading up to the committee hearing.

In addition to this problem, White is due in court after the state’s new voucher program is being challenged in a desegregation case. The Tangipahoa Parish School Board claims that the voucher program takes away too much money and hinders the district’s ability to comply with desegregation orders, which include building new schools, improving existing facilities and maintaining magnet programs.

The conservative Tax Foundation says Louisiana has the fourth-lowest state and local tax “burden” in the country. But with high sales taxes and low property taxes, Louisiana’s tax structure also is one of the country’s most regressive.

The Times-Picayune’s Jarvis DeBerry looks at the cuts to the LSU public hospital system and wonders if Kathleen Blanco was right all along.

Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard convinced enough House members to file a petition calling for a special session. Richard wants to challenge Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent hospitals and prison budget cuts. “We’re not sure exactly how much was cut, but we want to know,” Richard said. The session remains a long-shot, as it still needs approval from one-third of the Senate, followed by a majority vote in both chambers.

BP is asking a federal judge to approve a proposed multi-billion dollar settlement for claims from the 2010 oil spill. The oil and gas giant believes over 100,000 will benefit from the settlement, which the company estimates would cost $7.8 billion. More than 200 people and groups formally objected to the deal, while 983 potential claimants asked to opt out as of Oct. 19.

Finally, don’t forget to vote! Early voting is open at designated voting locations from 8:30am to 6:00pm until Oct. 30. Voting locations will be closed Sunday, Oct. 28.

$50 million – The estimated amount that will be diverted from public schools and sent to private schools under Louisiana’s voucher program (Source: The Associated Press)

 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Annual take-home pay for a typical worker will shrink by $1,000 next year when the temporary reduction in Social Security payroll taxes expires. The tax increase appears to have bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill, and groups like AARP are lobbying for the tax holiday to expire.

A recent report showed that Social Security benefits kept 198,000 elderly Louisianans from slipping into poverty.

The Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) is urging Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to slow down its efforts to phase out the LSU-run public hospital system.

Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway wants the state to scale back the state’s solar energy tax credit program, warning that it could end up costing Louisiana hundreds of millions of dollars per year if nothing is done. Solar industry officials countered that the tax credit has helped create hundreds of new jobs as people

The Revenue Study Commission is a blue ribbon committee of legislators tasked with reviewing the state’s 468 tax exemptions, which cost taxpayers $4.8 billion. LBP’s relevant reports on Louisiana’s tax exemptions are listed here for your convenience.

Louisiana’s public schools increased their scores between last year and this year. The number of schools earning an A rating increased by 66 percent, while more than one in three schools earned an A, B, or C rating. The number of schools earning D and F scores decreased by 44 percent.

Finally, early voting begins today and continues through Oct. 30. Voting locations will be open from 8:30am until 6:00pm, excluding Sunday, Oct. 28.

84 – The percent of eligible Louisiana voters who are registered to vote.

Monday, October 22, 2012
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee says Louisiana is legally bound to place any surplus into the rainy day fund before it can be used for other services. “We truly have needs. I understand that,” Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said. “But the first requirement is to follow the law.” Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to use a portion of the surplus to fill a $94 million gap in Medicaid funding.

The Times-Picayune’s editorial board added its voice to those who think Gov. Bobby Jindal should accept the Medicaid expansion that was included as part of the new federal health-reform law. The expansion of the program would provide coverage to an estimated 400,000 Louisianans-including more than 240,000 people who have jobs but no health insurance.

Meanwhile, the administration’s decision to cut 1,500 jobs and close dozens of beds in the LSU hospital system may jeopardize the accreditations of doctor training programs.

The New York Times magazine looks to Louisiana for some clues as to how GOP nominee Mitt Romney might lead the country if elected president next month. The conclusion: Louisiana’s economic policies have been great for select industries, but the poor have largely been left behind.

According to preliminary jobless data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of jobs in Louisiana fell by 6,700 between August and September. While the official unemployment rate dropped to a seven-month low of 7 percent, a broader measure of Louisiana’s unemployment, which includes individuals who are sporadically seeking work and those who stopped looking for work, lists the unemployment rate at 13 percent.

The most recent edition of Area Development ranks Louisiana as a top-10 state for doing business. Louisiana is ranked first in incentive programs and first in the “corporate state government” category. The positive economic news comes despite claims from state leaders that Louisiana needs a simpler corporate tax structure to strengthen the perception of its business climate.

31,785 – The four-week average of unemployment insurance claims as of October 19, 2010 (Source: Louisiana Workforce Commission)

 

Friday, October 19, 2012
The chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says federal policymakers will find it tough to eliminate costly tax loopholes, which are in the crosshairs these days as politicians look for ways to reduce the deficit and make room for more tax cuts. Not only are many tax loopholes politically popular, reducing them poses administrative burdens that would be tough to overcome.

A similar debate over tax loopholes is taking place in Louisiana, where the Revenue Study Commission is meeting on Oct. 22 to continue its review of the state’s 468 tax exemptions, which divert $4.8 billion a year from the state budget. Some of the exemptions have little available information to guide the committee; others disproportionately benefit wealthier Louisiana residents.

Momentum is building for LSU’s Board of Supervisors to merge the LSU chancellor and system president positions into one job. Supporters say combining the posts will save $3 to $5 million, while opponents believe a sole leader might show favoritism towards one campus or be beholden to the governor’s demands.

Louisiana’s four-year colleges rank last nationwide for overall funding and have some of the lowest tuition rates in the country, Higher Education Commissioner Jim Purcell told a legislative budget committee. But some legislators still think the college system needs to cut expenses.

Independent pharmacists and prescription drug companies want legislators to review new Medicaid reimbursement rules they believe are based on flawed data and establishes a bias toward insurance companies by omitting patient protections. The Department of Health and Hospitals says the revenue-saving measure is based on average costs from pharmacy surveys conducted by a contractor.

Finally, a new report by the Urban Institute details how federal, state, and local investments in children vary by age. State and local governments provide nearly 75 percent of the total public investment in children age 6 and older, while the federal government provides 76 percent of the total public investment in infants and toddlers.

40 – The percent of tax credits claimed by individuals with adjusted incomes above $1 million. (Source: Department of Revenue Annual Report)

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Gov. Bobby Jindal appears to be a few votes short of the number needed to privatize the state Office of Group Benefits. The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget was set to consider the privatization plan today, but the meeting was abruptly canceled. Supporters say the privatization would save the state $20 million a year, partly by eliminating about 177 state jobs. But a Legislative Auditor report said it could increase employee’s health insurance premiums.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a new rule allowing private schools accredited annually by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or the National Association of Independent Schools to qualify for a five-year approval for state voucher students. Superintendent of Education John White says the change removes red tape, while opponents say the new rule does not do enough to ensure the quality of the schools.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which accredits graduate medical programs, is pressing LSU for detailed documentation to show how expanding existing agreements with private hospitals and entering a new agreement with Lafayette General Medical Center will impact the school’s physician training program.

The Times-Picayune’s James Gill wonders who will care for the state’s uninsured after  the LSU hospital system is dismantled, especially if Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to refuse the upcoming Medicaid expansion.

Finally, Gov. Bobby Jindal is supporting State Treasurer John Kennedy’s call for selling all $325 million in rural road bonds this year to take advantage of low interest rates. The state will use the new revenue for road repairs in every parish except Orleans.

7.5 – Louisiana’s average unemployment rate over the past three months (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Social Security lifts 198,000 elderly people in Louisiana out of poverty
, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Benefits paid by the social insurance program are responsible for shrinking the percent of elderly living in poverty from 50.3 percent to 15 percent.

Social Security recipients will see their benefits jump by $21 a month, or $252 per year, due to a cost of living adjustment. This year’s 1.7 percent increase is less than half the 3.6 percent raise given out in 2011.

LSU’s health chief, Dr. Frank Opelka, told The Times-Picayune that the public hospitals he oversees cannot maintain current service levels unless the governor agrees to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program. That’s because the federal Affordable Care Act reduces money that states get to care for the uninsured, while giving states the ability to extend Medicaid coverage to anyone making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Gov. Bobby Jindal has said Louisiana won’t go through with the expansion, which would provide health coverage to 400,000 people without insurance.

Four companies expressed interest in taking over Southeast Louisiana Hospital. One of the companies believes it can operate SELH at its current location and maintain 200 beds, while the others propose moving or downsizing the facility.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s finance committee approved a $1 million contract to help Teach for America recruit and train another 250 new teachers. Opponents say the state should not spend so much on a program that only provides five weeks of training before placing teachers in the classroom, while TFA says its instructors increase test scores more quickly than other first-year teachers.

Justice Bernette Johnson will become the next chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, making her the first African-American to serve in that capacity. Justice Jeffrey Victory argued that he had more seniority and deserved the position, spawning a lengthy legal dispute that wound up in federal court.

Around 90 percent of individuals and businesses affected by the BP oil spill are expected to accept a multibillion-dollar settlement with the oil giant. BP officials estimate the settlement will cost $7.8 billion, although the agreement doesn’t place a cap on damages.

Finally, Civil Service Director Shannon Templet reminded rank-and-file state employees that they are prohibited from certain activities on Election Day, including clicking the “like” button on a candidate or party’s Facebook page or following them on Twitter.

280,603 – The number of elderly Louisiana residents that would be in poverty without Social Security benefits. (Source: CBPP)

 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff shakeup continues as his top legal adviser, Executive Counsel Elizabeth Murrill, is transitioning to the Division of Administration. She will be replaced by former Shaw Group executive Gary Graphia. The move comes just days after Murrill was identified in documents as advising the LSU system to withhold information about health-care budget cuts.

Public school teachers continue to worry that the state’s new evaluation system could cost them their jobs even if their students are performing well.

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill want to extend a 2010 cut in the estate tax, but do not want to extend a provision in the same law that boosted the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax Credit for working families with moderate incomes even though the latter helps far more families than the former. In Louisiana, for example, 80 wealthy families would benefit from the estate-tax break, while 231,482 families would be hurt if the EITC and child-care benefits are allowed to expire.

Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run property insurer of last resort, paid nearly $58 million to settle 14,450 Hurricane Isaac claims. Approximately 15 percent of claims related to the hurricane are still unsettled, and the company estimates total costs will be between $75 million and $100 million.

The state owes $9 million for court-appointed defense attorneys in the Angola 5 prison case. The case involves a botched escape attempt from Angola in 1999 that ended in the death of a prison guard. The majority of the due fees are for support services such as crime scene reconstruction and mental health examinations.

Also, the State Bond Commission will weigh whether to pay a $95 million penalty to Bank of America as part of a deal to refinance debt that paid for renovations to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Finally, New Orleans and Baton Rouge are spending a combined $300,000 to assess the feasibility of a high-speed rail between the two cities. Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected $300 million in federal funding for the rail in 2009 over concerns that the state couldn’t afford the $18 million ongoing maintenance costs.

Correction: An item in Monday’s Daily Dime about the Department of Revenue’s new federal-state offset program should have said that it is Treasurer John Kennedy, not the Revenue Department, who wants to sell $1.7 billion in uncollected revenue to private firms.

405,915 – The number of children in Louisiana who would be impacted if the federal government let improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit expire at the end of 2012. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

 

Monday, October 15, 2012
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top lawyer advised LSU officials
to deny requests for public records about health-care budget cuts, according to a letter obtained by The Advocate that directly contradicts what the governor’s spokesman told the media last week.

The Department of Revenue is proposing a new “Federal-State Offset Program” to intercept federal dollars intended for taxpayers, vendors, and contractors when they owe money to the state. The department also wants to sell $1.7 billion in uncollected revenue to private companies for $340 million.

A new proposal by the Department of Education will allow non-public schools that are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or the National Association of Independent Schools to qualify for voucher students for five years. BESE will consider the proposed changes tomorrow. Schools that accept voucher students receive an average of $5,300 per student from the state.

In addition, Department of Education Superintendent John White attempted to downplay the six-figure salaries for himself and his 15-member executive staff by informing reporters that his department fired 50 employees to reduce overall spending by nearly 11 percent. The total salary for White and his executive team costs taxpayers over $2.4 million each year.

The state will provide Emerson Electric Company with a $375,000 modernization tax credit, industrial tax exemptions and a quality jobs tax breaks for a 105,000-square-foot, $10 million regional headquarters in Gonzales. The new facility will create 50 new jobs with salaries averaging $49,900 annually.

Finally, some low-income Louisiana parents may experience a tax increase next year if Congress does not stop the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and American Opportunity Credit from expiring on January 1.

$182 million – The amount of taxpayer dollars that go to for-profit prisons to feed, house, secure and provide medical care to the state’s 40,000 inmates. (Source: The Times-Picayune).

 

Friday, October 12, 2012
Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard’s request for a special session seems likely to fail, according to a survey by The Lens.  Many state legislators believe that Gov. Bobby Jindal would veto any legislation seeking to overturn his recent cuts to public education and healthcare, an action that can only be reversed by an unlikely two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Meanwhile, Rep. Brett Geymann is working with another group of legislators on a package of constitutional amendments to make the budget process more transparent. The group is also interested in lessening the reliance on one-time funds and prioritizing funding for health care and higher education.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of his revamped state employee pension plan, arguing that those filing the suit are not affected by the change. Plaintiff Frank Jobert says the governor is incorrect and that anyone in the state can challenge the constitutionality of any law.

Finally, LSU health-care system’s executive director Dr. Frank Opelka says the state must keep hospitals with 10 staffed beds open so associated outpatient clinics can continue to qualify for federal funds. LSU officials are currently seeking private partnerships for collaborations on services and medical training programs, or the eventual take over of a university hospital.

959,000 Louisiana children participate in the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program operating in public schools, non-profit private schools and residential child-care institutions to provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. (Source: US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service)

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012
Retired LSU economics professor is bullish on Louisiana’s economy, predicting the state will add more than 50,000 jobs in 2013 and 2014.

FEMA is waiving $94.9 million that it improperly paid to over 18,000 Louisiana households following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav under the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act of 2011. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “It is too early to determine the cost-effectiveness of the process because waiver requests and reimbursements are still ongoing.”

The conservative Pelican Institute issued a new report on Louisiana’s school voucher program. Unfortunately, the “progress report” does not reveal any information that isn’t already publicly available on the Department of Education’s website. The scholarship program’s first actual progress report comes when students take their state tests and DOE and BESE conduct their academic review of schools.

Also, the Education Department is delaying its recommendations for grading pre-kindergarten and early childhood education programs. Superintendent of Education John White told the Associated Press, “It was clear some of our leading partners wanted to have more discussion before we have a discussion with BESE.” DOE will present its recommendations at BESE’s December meeting, and a final plan is due to the Legislature by March 1.

The state is backing a proposal to relocate Frontier Airlines to New Orleans by signing a memorandum of understanding with investors to kick in $50 for every new passenger the airline brings to the Crescent City. New Orleans officials have not provided the necessary approval for the project to move forward, citing concerns that the airline will establish a monopoly in New Orleans. Cities with one dominant carrier tend to witness increased fares, other airlines abandoning the airport, and deteriorating service quality.

 

Finally, Louisiana’s Secretary of State Tom Schedler is expecting a 70 percent voter turnout this election season. Residents can vote early between Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

 

2.92 million Louisiana residents will be eligible to vote Nov. 6 when the race for U.S. president tops the ballot, about 100,000 more eligible voters than on the rolls for last October’s governor’s race.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012
LSU medical school leaders tried to assuage its students’ concerns about budget cuts to the public hospital system, saying the plans to shift residency programs to private hospitals will result in a better patient-to-doctor ratio. But many students remain skeptical and raised concerns that the cuts will reduce access to care by the uninsured.

Meanwhile, LSU officials are stonewalling the media’s efforts to find out how the cuts were made, saying the governor’s broad “deliberative process” privilege means they don’t have to turn over documents requested underLouisiana’s public record law. LSU officials say their decision to keep the public uninformed is in the interests of the health care system’s advisers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is circumventing salary cap requirements by allowing Tim Barfield to work as the executive council for the Department of Revenue until the legislature approves his appointment as revenue secretary. Barfield’s $250,000 salary is twice as large as his immediate predecessor.

Barfield’s costly appointment comes as some state agencies are finding ways to reduce their budgets. For example, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control is laying off staff and making other cutbacks to save the state $1 million, which will be used to mitigate recent cuts to public education and health care.

Finally, several metro areas experienced an increase of chemical industry exports in 2011, includingNew Orleans ($13.96 billion in 2010 to $20.34 billion in 2011),Baton Rouge ($3.78 billion in 2010 to $4.86 billion in 2011) and Lake Charles ($2.5 billion in 2010 to $4.2 billion in 2011).

 

27.4 percent of Louisiana’s children live in poverty (Source: Louisiana Kid’s Dashboard)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
With tax reform set to dominate next year’s political agenda, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration on Monday offered its most detailed account to date of how it would like to see the state’s tax code restructured. A Primer on State Tax Structure in Louisiana, prepared by Louisiana Economic Development, suggests multiple changes to the current tax structure, including fewer corporate income tax brackets, reduced tax rates and the elimination of some tax exemptions.

The debate over what to do with Louisiana’s $130 million projected surplus escalated Monday when state Treasurer John Kennedy said state law requires that it be deposited in the rainy-day fund. The governor’s office says the law that Kennedy cites—which passed in the waning days of the 2012 session—has “expired.” The stakes are high. If Kennedy prevails, another $94 million in health-care cuts will be needed to bring the Medicaid budget back into balance after the federal government reduced its match rate.

Add U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, to the list of politicians who thinks Big Bird needs to be sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction.

Also, the prospects for a legislative special session grew more remote Monday when House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Senate President John Alario poo-poohed the idea in a joint press release.

Former LSU student Abigail Fisher is having her day in court Wednesday. Fisher is appearing before Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ use of race in the admissions process–drawing new attention to use of affirmative action by colleges and universities to diversify their student bodies.

A plan to overhaul Louisiana’s early-childhood education system sailed through the Legislature without controversy last spring. But the debate over how to implement the law is proving far more complicated. Key issues facing the Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education include how much public input should go into the process, how to balance high-quality care and affordability, and how to increase accountability for overseers of young children.

Today is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election. You can register to vote online or by completing a Louisiana Voter Application form and returning it in person to your local Registrar of Voters’ Office.

18 percent of Louisiana residents who worked full-time in the past 12 months did not have health insurance. (Source: 2011 American Community Survey)

 

Monday, October 8, 2012
The chairman of the Revenue Study Commission doesn’t expect his group to issue recommendations for which tax breaks should be reduced or eliminated. The Associated Press takes note of the lack of data for many tax breaks and concludes that the study panel “is an interesting educational exercise, but it remains to be seen what it will accomplish.”

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee believes that negotiations to save Southeast Louisiana Hospital should not occur in a legislative sessions, although he does welcome a special session to discuss the state’s finances.

A bipartisan letter from Gulf Coast senators urges President Barack Obama to make sure that any legal settlement between the Justice Department and BP does not reduce billions of dollars due to the states for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, running for re-election against nominal opposition, tells the Advocate that he longs for a “limited return” of congressional earmarks so he can bring home some federal cash.

Oddly enough, Louisiana has a law on the books requiring marijuana dealers to pay taxes on their sales. Even odder, some people actually pay the tax. But Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, wants the whole thing reviewed.

Finally, several independent charter schools that can leave the state-created Recovery School District are not rejoining the Orleans Parish School Board due to funding caps, loss of autonomy, and the school board’s reputation. The state created the RSD as a temporary oversight board for failing schools in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina.

State Rep. Jerome Dee Richard’s proposed 15-day special legislative session would cost the state $80,000 per day for a total of $1.2 million.

Friday, October 5, 2012
The budged ax fell hard on seven south Louisiana public hospitals Thursday, as the LSU Board of Supervisors approved $152 million in cuts that will kill nearly 1,500 jobs and close dozens of inpatient beds that will restrict health-care access for the uninsured and leave some hospitals with fewer than a dozen beds.

Reaction to the cuts from state legislators ranged from disappointed to outraged, with Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, saying it was “almost criminal” to lay off so many health-care workers with little notice.

But the budget-cutting plan won praise from LSU board members, even as the administration’s plans for “public-private partnerships” to pick up the slack remain on the drawing board.

A Thibodaux legislator filed a petition for a special session of the Legislature to reverse the cuts. Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard needs one-third of his colleagues in the House and Senate to sign the petition before it can go to a full vote of the Legislature. The session, which remains a long-shot to happen, would start Nov. 26.

LSU’s main campus saw more African-American and Hispanic students enroll than ever before, an achievement school officials credit to better recruiting, the Advocate reports.

A Republican legislator from Shreveport normally allied with Gov. Bobby Jindal is ticked off about the state’s new rules for  teacher evaluation because some educators in his district are being labeled as ineffective even though their students have some of the best scores in the state.

The chairman of the Greater New Orleans Educational Television Foundation defended the federal dollars that support public broadcasting, which make up 2/10,000ths of the budget. But most of the anonymous commentariat on NOLA.com agrees with Mitt Romney and thinks Big Bird should fend for himself.

-The LSU hospital system expects to shed 1,497 jobs, starting in January, as part of the budget cuts approved on Thursday.

 

Thursday, October 4, 2012
Louisiana could choose to expand its Medicaid program for a limited time, and then drop the coverage when a state cost-share is required, according to the New York Times, which says the Obama administration is putting pressure on states to take advantage of the opportunity to give health coverage to anyone earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty rate starting in 2014. Louisiana is among a handful of states that have said it won’t go through with the expansion, which would cover an estimated 400,000 people.

Post-debate fact-check: Gov. Mitt Romney’s plans to cap federal spending and boost defense outlays would require very large cuts to entitlement programs, including Social Security.

Heavy revisions to a proposal for providing information technology services at the state health department means 69 state workers will keep their jobs instead of being laid off, as Health Secretary Bruce Greenstein had originally proposed. The state Civil Service Commission demanded the revisions after the administration failed to show how their original layoff plan would have saved money and increased efficiency.

Opponents of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville held a rally on Wednesday.

Hurricane Isaac caused about $3 million in damage to the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

93 percent of the 10-year cost of expanding Louisiana’s Medicaid program would come from the federal government.

 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Public approval of Gov. Bobby Jindal is waning, most Louisianans think the state budget has been cut enough, and a plurality of state residents support raising new revenue by eliminating tax exemptions. Those were some of the findings of the Southern Media & Opinion Research poll released Tuesday. The survey found 47 percent support for new revenue, with 35 percent opposed.

Jindal’s political guru, former chief of staff Timmy Teepell, thinks the poll results are skewed.

The House and Senate tax committees cleared the way for new business tax breaks to take effect by approving the administrative rules that will govern them. The new law allows the state Department of Economic Development to offer rebates for payroll, moving expenses and income taxes for companies seeking to relocate to Louisiana.

As Louisiana’s debate over tax breaks starts to heat up, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy has outlined five steps that states can take to ensure that tax exemptions are working as intended.  The list includes a simple idea: Require each tax exemption to include a specific, detailed explanation of what it is designed to achieve.

The Revenue Study Commission continued its review of state tax breaks by looking at the tax exemptions for the alcohol industry.

Two education policy groups want a bigger voice in the state’s overhaul of pre-kindergarten programs.

The giant ThyssenKrupp steel mill that Louisiana tried to lure in 2007 with $2 billion in state incentives—only to lose out to Alabama—is now up for sale after the German steelmaker lost a bundle of money.

Clarification: The Sept. 28 Daily Dime incorrectly reported that Louisiana Chemical Association President Dan Borne failed to mention tax reform in his remarks to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge. We regret the error.

80-Percent of Louisianans who think people will lose access to health care because of cuts to the LSU hospital system.

 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is preparing to unveil a sweeping overhaul of Louisiana’s pre-kindergarten program. The change stems from the Early Childhood Education Act, which was part of the governor’s package of education bills that swept through the Legislature last spring.

The shakeup continues in the top ranks of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Deputy Chief of Staff Kristy Nichols will be the next Commissioner of Administration, where she will serve as the governor’s chief adviser on budget issues. Outgoing commissioner Paul Rainwater will become chief of staff, taking over the job held by Stephen Waguespack, who resigned to pursue unspecified opportunities. Both Nichols and Rainwater are administration veterans who have held numerous titles over the past six years. The move comes six weeks after Jindal tapped Tim Barfield to take over the state Department of Revenue, where he will oversee the administration’s efforts to overhaul Louisiana’s tax code in 2013.

No matter who gets elected president in November—and which party has control of Congress—about 160 million American wage earners will see their taxes go up in January. That’s because the temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax, which was part of the 2009 stimulus law, is set to expire. Neither party seems inclined to renew it, according to the New York Times.

The closure of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville due to budget cuts is proceeding, as 60 inpatient beds are being moved to a state facility in Pineville this week and another 34 beds will be moved to East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson by Oct. 9.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret says the state’s tax code needs to be fairer and simpler. But he also wants voters to approve another tax break that’s on the November ballot, which would allow local governments to grant property tax exemptions to specific industries if they met investment and hiring goals.

On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is working on a long-term deficit reduction plan that would be debated during the lame-duck session after the November elections. The details are still being worked out, according to the New York Times, but the idea is to avert the “fiscal cliff” that looms in January when Bush-era tax cuts are due to expire and automatic, across-the-board budget cuts are set to take effect.

40 Percent of Louisianans live below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, a threshold that many economists consider to be “low-income.”(source: U.S Census Bureau)

Monday, October 1, 2012
The state’s bill for Hurricane Isaac is expected to top $40 million, and legislators aren’t sure where they’ll get the money. One idea is to tap the $130 million surplus left over from 2011-12. But some lawmakers want to use that cash to replenish the “rainy day” fund, while others say it should be used to plug holes in the Medicaid program.

One of America’s premier outdoors writers – the Times-Picayune’s Bob Marshall – bids farewell with an ominous explanation of why a relatively weak storm like Hurricane Isaac caused so much damage.

A group of conservative state legislators that wants to transform the state budget process embarked on a daylong “listening tour” last Thursday. The Budget Reform Coalition is comprised of many of the same lawmakers who earlier this year pushed for deeper cuts to the budget than those proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. The group met with members of the business community, higher education leaders and nonprofit groups, including the Louisiana Budget Project.

Some LSU faculty members are queasy about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to concentrate more power at LSU’s flagship campus by eliminating the LSU System office and merging the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Ag Center and the LSU Law School into the main campus.

Angered by Entergy’s performance after Hurricane Isaac, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Jefferson Parish President John Young are asking the state for a new law that would let cities and parishes replace utility companies that fail to meet expectations. In a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal, the pair said local authorities should be allowed to force utilities to sell their assets to a government body or to another firm at “fair market value.”

An American Enterprise Institute scholar says the Affordable Care Act is grounded in conservative principles.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans will publish a print edition 3 days a week, starting today, after 175 years of daily publication.

 

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