The Daily Dime: August 2013


The Daily Dime is a summary of the day’s news stories related to the state budget and issues that affect low- and middle-income individuals and families, compiled every business day by Louisiana Budget Project analyst David Gray. Click here to have the Daily Dime delivered to your inbox.

Friday, Aug. 30, 2013
Poverty strains cognitive abilities, opens door for bad decision making
A common narrative in American culture is that people find themselves living in poverty due to either inherent laziness or a choice to not work hard. But a new study by several top-tier academic institutions, including Harvard University and Princeton University, finds the strain of poverty taxes the cognitive abilities of people who experience it — hindering their ability to fully perform a range of tasks. Harvard economist Sandhil Mullainathan, one of the study’s authors, used the following metaphor to describe the effects of poverty: “Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter. Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.” Fortunately for the poor, the study shows cognitive abilities return when the burden of poverty disappears.

Teachers union renews battle over tenure law
Louisiana Federation of Teachers is planning to file another lawsuit against the state over a new teacher tenure law. The union’s actions come after a Monroe-based district court judge ruled on Aug. 16 the tenure provisions in Act 1 — part of last year’s controversial overhaul of public schools — violated teacher DeAnne Williams’ 14th Amendment property rights and her right to due process under the state Constitution. Specifically, the court ruled that the 2012 law unjustly gives local superintendents the right to fire a tenured teacher without a pre-termination hearing. LFT President Steve Monaghan says his group knows of several similar cases around the state and will use the Monroe ruling to bolster its case in Baton Rouge.

LSU, newspapers disagree over interpretation of state Supreme Court ruling
Attorneys representing The Advocate and The Times-Picayune in their lawsuit against LSU say the state Supreme Court’s decision to not overturn or stay a lower court’s ruling means the flagship institution must produce the names of semifinalists and finalists in its presidential search. But LSU’s attorney Jimmy Faircloth disagrees, saying the high court’s decision paved the way for LSU to have its case heard before the appellate courts. Faircloth, who specializes in losing high-profile cases for the Jindal administration, said LSU will not produce any records unless the appellate court orders it. Despite the ongoing legal battles, State District Judge Janice Clark is holding LSU in contempt of court, fining the institution $500 a day for every day it fails to produce the records — an outstanding bill that now totals more than $50,000.

Married same-sex couples living in Louisiana can file taxes jointly
The U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would treat same-sex couples as married for all federal tax purposes, including income, gift and estate taxes. As Nola.com summarizes, the ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an Individual Retirement Account and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit. Since Louisiana does not recognize same sex marriages, marriages performed in other states will not enable couples to file jointly for their state income tax returns.

$17,000 - The annual earnings gap between Louisiana workers with at least a bachelor’s degree and those without one. (Source: State of Working Louisiana 2013)

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013
State of Working Louisiana 2013
Wages for the typical Louisiana worker are virtually the same today as they were in 1979, on an inflation adjusted basis, and the percentage of working-age adults who are participating in the workforce is at a 30-year low. Those are two of the key findings in a new report, State of Working Louisiana 2013, being released today by the Louisiana Budget Project. The report also finds that a steady loss of jobs in manufacturing and government is one reason Louisiana’s unemployment rate is creeping steadily upward after years of being well below the national average. Read the full report by clicking here and read a news release that summarizes the major findings here.

Affordable Care Act lowers insurance premiums for small firms by 6 percent
Workers at firms employing fewer than 100 workers are expected pay almost 6 percent less in premiums in 2016 under the Affordable Care Act than without the health care reform law, according to a new study by the nonprofit Rand Corp. Nationally, average premiums for equal plans would cost $5,837 with the Affordable Care Act in effect and $6,192 without it — a $355 savings. “The rate-shock concerns were overblown,” Christine Eibner, a senior economist at Rand Corp., told USA Today. “It’s likely the effect will be small.” The Kaiser Family Foundation reports almost 60 percent of American adults under age 65 are covered by employer-sponsored plans, making it by far the most common way people get health insurance.

Growing income achievement gap overshadows race
When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech a half-century ago, black children lagged their white peers in school by more than three years, while poor children fell behind their wealthy peers by about a year or so. Fifty years later, the test-score gap between poor and rich children is more than 50 percent larger than the black-white achievement gap. The Hechinger Report explains one of the likely causes of the expanding class gap is the country’s widening income inequality. Parents in the top quintile of income in the U.S. (households earning at least $102,000 in 2011) spend more than double what parents in the second quintile (earning at least $62,000) spend on trips for their children. That doesn’t mean poor families aren’t investing in their children. In fact, poor families spend a higher percentage of their paychecks toward their children than their wealthier counterparts.

Nearly 40 percent of unemployed Americans out of work for more than six months
Long-term unemployment is a grim reality for 4.2 million Americans. As the Urban Institute reports, the high rate of long-term employment — more than 36 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more —  results from employers hiring too slowly to make up for the tremendous job losses during the Great Recession. Long-term unemployed workers are more likely to be minorities, impoverished, disabled, unmarried and less educated. The consequences of long-term unemployment include loss of income, declining mental and physical health, low academic achievement for children in families with long-term unemployed parents, strained public services and low tax revenues.

Louisiana’s combined sales tax rate third highest in the nation
Louisiana’s combined state and local sales tax rate is the third highest in the nation, according to the conservative Tax Foundation, which ranks states according to their combined sales taxes because “a state with a moderate statewide sales tax rate could actually have a very high combined state-local rate compared to other states.” Louisiana appears to fit that definition perfectly.  The state’s 4 percent statewide sales tax is one of the lowest in the nation. But the average local sales tax rate (4.89 percent) is the highest in the nation — partly due to Louisiana’s generous homestead exemption. While Louisiana’s combined sales tax rate is higher than all of its neighboring states, the gap is not wide enough to entice most consumers to cross state lines in search of a bargain.

1 percent - The inflation-adjusted change in the typical Louisiana worker’s wages from 1979 to 2012. (Source: State of Working Louisiana 2013)

Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013
Maximizing shareholder value: The goal that changed corporate America
There was a time when IBM was known not just for its technological advancements, but also for its historic commitments to its employees and the communities where they live. But a change in the iconic company’s business philosophy during the 1980s and 1990s resulted in several mass layoffs and the shipping of many jobs overseas. The new philosophy, which is now ingrained throughout corporate America, is a commitment to maximizing shareholder value above all other goals. As the Washington Post details, this new focus has allowed companies to post record profits and CEOs to make record salaries, while workers face stagnant wages and reduced pensions.  “Together with new competition overseas, the pressure to respond to the short-term demands of Wall Street has paved the way for an economy in which companies are increasingly disconnected from the state of the nation, laying off workers in huge waves, keeping average wages low and threatening to move operations abroad in the face of regulations and taxes,” the Post reports in a lengthy, largely unflattering look at the company which is building a taxpayer-subsidized technology center in downtown Baton Rouge — slated to open in 2015.

50th anniversary of the March on Washington
Louisiana officials and commentators are weighing in as America marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, an event etched into history when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his dream of a desegregated society on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu writes that society should honor King’s legacy by recommitting ourselves to the fight for peace, especially in urban areas like New Orleans that have experienced high murder rates.  Nola.com Columnist Jarvis DeBerry describes an incident that kept the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, James Farmer, from attending the march after he was placed in a Donaldsonville jail following a march in Plaquemine for access to the ballot. And Baton Rouge State District Judge Janice Clark recalls her personal experience in attending the march as a young girl.

Dardenne calls for “special events” fund in New Orleans
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne weighed in Tuesday on the ongoing financial dispute between the state and city of New Orleans. The future candidate for governor said New Orleans needs to pay back the money it borrowed from the state to make ends meet after Hurricane Katrina, but suggested it go into a new fund that would help pay for special events such as Super Bowls and the NCAA football championship game. Dardenne has been sharply critical of Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature for taking money dedicated for tourism promotion to subsidize sporting events and a country music festival in Baton Rouge.

Katrina and Isaac, a double anniversary: Editorial
As Louisiana marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac, state officials are still pressing the federal government to pony up more money for recovery costs. The Advocate reports that state and local governments are responsible for 25 percent of damage costs until the overall price tag reaches $594 million — a threshold state Emergency Preparedness director Kevin Davis believes Louisiana will soon meet. Should damages reach that level, Louisiana would only be responsible for 10 percent of the cost. Meanwhile, the Nola.com Editorial Board recalls Isaac and Hurricane Katrina, which is also being remembered this week, and discusses some of the changes since then.

25th state accepts federal Medicaid expansion
Michigan became the 25th state to accept federal Medicaid expansion on Tuesday following a night of mostly closed-door politicking and vote wrangling. The expansion is expected to improve health care coverage for approximately 470,000 low-income Michiganders. That’s about the same number of people federal Medicaid expansion would serve in Louisiana, and the savings from the expansion would offset cost to the state. Lawmakers in Louisiana considered several Medicaid expansion bills this session — including a private insurance option — but all were defeated. A recent study by the Urban Institute concluded around 9,900 Louisiana veterans and 4,000 of their spouses would be eligible for better healthcare under federal Medicaid expansion, and a report from Kaiser Health News found low-income uninsured Americans living in states that rejected federal Medicaid expansion might still be able to get federal assistance for health coverage.

Moody’s upgrades state outlooks
Moody’s Investors Service upgraded its outlook of state economies in a report distributed to investors last week. According to the agency, economies in most states have stabilized after five years of recession and recovery; improvements in consumer confidence and the housing sector indicate more stable economies less likely to be harmed by possible federal budget cuts; and strong performance in the stock market has bolstered state revenues. Moody’s also expects unemployment rates to fall to pre-recession levels by 2017. Housing prices rose by between 5 and 10 percent in 19 states in 2012, but remain 22 percent below their 2006 peak.

2.1 percent - The change in housing prices in Louisiana between 2011 and 2012 (Source: Moody’s Analytics)

Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013
Federal suit is a sign that school voucher program was poorly crafted
The attorney who successfully argued the state unconstitutionally funded the private school voucher program with public school dollars says the new federal suit to stop the voucher program in districts under federal desegregation orders is a sign the program was poorly crafted. Bob Hammonds told the Monroe News Star the Jindal administration’s key education reform initiative “wasn’t properly vetted; it was rushed through the Legislature in one day without input from public education experts. … That’s why it continues to unravel.” Hammonds said the voucher program reduced funding for public schools without reducing their operational expenses, and the state will have to spend more public dollars as the case moves through the courts.

Louisiana one of ten states to revise juvenile sentencing guidelines
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama (2012) that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles was cruel and unusual punishment, state legislatures and courts faced a major legal question: Does the Miller decision retroactively apply to juveniles already serving such sentences? As Stateline reports, the loophole resulted in a hodgepodge of sentencing guidelines. In Louisiana, the state Supreme Court ruled the Miller decision does apply to more than 200 people serving life without parole for crimes committed when they were children. That decision prompted the enactment of a new law requiring juvenile offenders to serve a mandatory minimum of 35 years for first and second degree murder and complete education and job training programs before becoming parole eligible.

When will the Affordable Care Act begin – Oct. 1 or Jan. 1?
There are 35 days until the public can begin purchasing health insurance through state- and federally-managed exchanges. But Washington Post health blogger Sarah Kliff says the official start of the Affordable Care Act is not until Jan. 1, 2014 – the date the individual mandate takes effect. “As I spent time reporting my most recent article – checking in with state marketplaces — it became increasingly clear that their big day isn’t necessarily Oct. 1. Instead, it’s Jan. 1, the day that the individual mandate takes effect and any plans purchased on the marketplace actually kick in.” Kliff says there are no major incentives to force people to buy insurance before January, making the days between Oct. 1 and Jan. 1 a soft launch period to work out the kinks in the exchanges.

Bill Cassidy criticized over conflicting views on health insurance exchanges
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, will have some explaining to do on health-care policy in his 2014 U.S. Senate race against Mary Landrieu. Although Cassidy has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, voting more than 40 times to repeal or de-fund the landmark health-reform law, Cassidy supported many of the same concepts just a few years ago while serving in the state Senate. As the Nola Defender first reported, Cassidy sponsored legislation to create a Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange, which he promoted as a way to make quality healthcare more accessible and affordable, lower insurance premiums, decrease administrative costs and improve flexibility. The exchange concept, of course, is the cornerstone of the federal health-reform law. When Nola.com asked Cassidy to explain the discrepancy, his spokesman responded by attacking Landrieu.

Policy Basics: Understanding unemployment insurance
Unemployment insurance helps millions of people nationwide weather periods without a job. But the total duration of time a person can receive unemployment assistance varies by state. In Louisiana, residents can apply for regular state-funded benefits for up to 26 weeks. Those who are unable to find employment during this period can receive up to 28 additional weeks of benefits through a temporary federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program that was created in 2008, bringing the total to 54 weeks. The Louisiana Workforce Commission reported 26,564 residents are currently receiving unemployment insurance, down from 34,900 in the prior year.

54 – The maximum number of weeks a Louisiana resident can file for unemployment insurance (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

Monday, Aug. 26, 2013
Jindal administration seeks post-Katrina loan repayments
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and New Orleans-area officials disagree about whether post-Katrina loans should be repaid or forgiven. The loans, secured with both federal and state dollars, were intended to keep the New Orleans area financially stable in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane. The Jindal administration is counting on the loan repayments to keep the $25 billion state budget in balance, and insists the state’s constitution makes it impossible to forgive the nearly $400 million in principal and interest owed by the city of New Orleans and other political subdivisions. But New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, who led the hurricane recovery for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, said the loan was never intended to be repaid.

Federal government sues to block controversial state voucher program
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a suit to block the state Department of Education from distributing 2014-15 private school vouchers to students in 34 public school districts that are currently under federal desegregation orders. As Nola.com summarizes, “The Justice Department’s primary argument is that letting students leave for vouchered private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. … Federal analysis found that last year’s Louisiana vouchers increased racial imbalance in 34 historically segregated public schools in 13 systems.” State Superintendent of Education John White said the federal government’s argument is “a little ridiculous” given that the majority of voucher students are black.

States will keep New Orleans health clinics open, but strings attached
The state Department of Health and Hospitals announced plans Friday to provide $6.1 million in funding for a Medicaid “waiver” developed after Hurricane Katrina that has allowed a network of neighborhood health clinics to provide healthcare for 50,000 to 60,000 uninsured low-income adults. Funding for the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection was originally in limbo after the Jindal administration rejected federal Medicaid expansion and failed to include funding for the program in the state budget. While the new funding will allow the network’s 40 area clinics to keep their doors open, one third of the people currently receiving care will no longer be eligible due to a reduction in the income threshold from 200 percent of the federal poverty line to 100 percent. The state will also stop giving health care providers funds to pay for facilities and equipment, and will no longer pay providers at the end of the year based on the number of patients they served.

Disabled Louisianans need Medicaid to help them stay in their homes: Nola.com
Gov. Bobby Jindal erred when he withdrew the state’s application from a federal program designed to help low-income people with disabilities live independently or with their families rather than in an institution. That’s the opinion of the Nola.com Editorial Board, which wrote that the state would have only needed roughly $73 million to help 21,000 additional people receive home health care through Medicaid. The federal government would have funded 68 percent of the additional costs through its Community First Choice Program, created under the Affordable Care Act. The editorial board said it is hard to believe that Jindal’s decision to withdraw Louisiana’s application is not politically motivated given the governor’s opposition to the new federal law.

49 percent – The percent of Louisiana school districts that are currently under federal desegregation orders. (Source: The Alexandria Town Talk)

Friday, Aug. 23, 2013
New round of sequestration cuts likely to cause budget shortfalls
Louisiana and other states are preparing for another round of automatic federal budget cuts, known as the “sequester,” should Congress fail to reach a budget deal when returning from summer recess. The new round of cuts is expected to total $4.2 billion and reduce funding for public housing assistance, schools with low-income students, food inspections, scientific research grants and environmental protection programs. More than one- third of Louisiana’s budget is comprised of federal grant dollars, which means the state may have to enact mid-year budget cuts for the sixth consecutive year. Louisiana’s Head Start program is already feeling the impact of sequestration; nearly 57,000 kids enrolled in the program will be dropped from the service due to the federal budget cuts.

School districts struggle to comply with mandatory student-computer ratios
Despite significant improvements since last year, nearly half of the state’s school districts are struggling to comply with a new mandate that requires every public school to have at least one computer or similar device for every seven students before the start of the 2014-15 academic year. The Advocate reports the issue appears greatest in rural districts, whose superintendents say their scarcer populations make it financially difficult to buy enough computers to meet the requirement. The state Department of Education is pushing schools to meet the minimum requirement in time for students to take online tests as part of a national push for more rigorous classes, called Common Core.

Louisiana cities poised for growth, magazines say
Two different trade publications say South Louisiana cities are tops in the nation for economic growth potential. First up is Area Development, a “corporate site selection magazine,” which says Lafayette is No. 1 in the country for economic and job growth, according to a glowing write-up on Nola.com (Baton Rouge placed 85th). That was followed by this morning’s report in The Washington Post, which cites a report by Business Facilities magazine that says Baton Rouge is actually No. 1 in the country for economic growth potential (Lafayette is nowhere to be found on that list, but did earn a No. 3 ranking on the magazine’s list of “manufacturing employment” leaders among mid-sized metro areas).

LSU chief says Obama’s higher education plan could help Louisiana
New LSU President F. King Alexander says he is supportive of President Barack Obama’s proposal to create a new ranking system that measures colleges and universities on value and rewards better-ranked institutions with a larger share of federal money. Alexander said the president’s plan could be a boon to LSU because the state ranks below the average on student indebtedness; below the average on tuition and student loan default; and higher on graduates’ starting salaries and mid-career earnings. The additional federal funding would greatly help secure the budgets for the state’s flagship and other public institutions. State funding for higher education is currently at historic lows, being reduced by 66 percent since 2009.

Young Republicans take advantage of popular Affordable Care Act provision
While the Affordable Care Act remains a highly partisan issue, more young Republicans than Democrats are taking advantage of a popular provision in the new federal law that allows individuals aged 26 and under to stay on their parents’ health insurance. According to a March 2013 poll by the Commonwealth Fund, 63 percent of young adults identifying as Republicans enrolled in a parent’s health plan in the last 12 months, compared to 45 percent of those who identified as Democrats. Overall, nearly half of all young adults are opting to remain on their parents’ health plan, which the Commonwealth Fund says is due to the high cost of health insurance rather than young adults believing they are too healthy for healthcare.

36.24 percent - The portion of the Louisiana state budget that came from federal grants in fiscal year 2012. (Source: Congressional Research Service and NASBO)

Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013
Report: Education and wages are closely linked
The best thing a states can do to raise living standards for families is to build a better-educated workforce. That simple conclusion comes from a new study, released this morning by the Economic Policy Institute, which tracks the correlation between educational attainment and median wages. The study, “A well-educated workforce is key to state prosperity,” also looked for a link between median wages and a state’s overall level of taxation, to see if workers in low-tax states fared better than their counterparts in high-tax states. But no such link exists, which suggests education is just about the best investment state policymakers can make. The study should strike a particular chord in Louisiana, which has cut state support for higher education more than any other state. Read the full report by clicking the link above, a write-up in The Washington Post here, or a new blog by LBP that looks at the report in the context of the latest numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Office.

Regents chairman discusses budget cuts and state lawmakers
Louisiana Board of Regents Chairman W. Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge Wednesday that a series of state budget cuts since 2008 has hindered universities’ abilities to recruit and retain top-notch professors, to pay current faculty competitive wages and to complete maintenance work before backlogs build up. He also criticized state lawmakers for rejecting bills that would have authorized colleges and universities to set their own tuition, to charge more for expensive programs and to charge students on a per-credit basis. “If higher education is a priority in our state, the level of investment must reflect that,” Rasberry said. “We need stability in funding and some predictability.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal rejects federal aid for the elderly
The Jindal administration has withdrawn its application for funding from a federal program that boosts states’ Medicaid match rate by 6 percentage points for certain long-term care services for the elderly and disabled. Politico reports the federal program, called Community First Choice, encourages community- or home-based care for thousands of Medicaid-eligible patients. The state Department of Health and Hospitals’ policy director Calder Lynch said his office withdrew its application because the program would force a “vast expansion” of community care services, which currently have long waiting lists. But Moriba Karimoko, director of the Louisiana Consumer Healthcare Coalition, told the newspaper Jindal’s rejection has more to do with politics than policy and is also a nod to the state’s powerful nursing home lobby. ‘It’s human lives that are left in the balance around it,’ he said.” Funding for the Community First Choice program is tied to the Affordable Care Act, which Jindal wants to repeal.

American wages have remained flat for a decade
Incomes for the typical American worker have remained flat across all job categories and most major demographic groups for the past decade, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. The report found wage gains between 2000 and 2007 were eliminated in the years since the Great Recession, causing wages to become flat or decline for the bottom 60 percent of workers. Meanwhile, corporate profits have soared and the earnings of the top 1 percent of Americans have skyrocketed. EPI’s analysis is substantiated by a separate study conducted by two former Census Bureau officials, which concluded incomes for the typical American household are 6 percent below their pre-recession levels. The groups that experienced the deepest wage losses since the recession include African-Americans, Southerners, people who did not attend college and households headed by people younger than age 25.

Aug.-22-NOTD

Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013
How the myth of the “welfare queen” died
The stereotype of the “welfare queen,” popularized during the Reagan era, is far less justified today than in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s because the number of single moms receiving federal cash assistance has gone down while the number of employed single moms has gone up. Despite these improvements, the percent of female-headed households with children under 18 that are in poverty is greater today than in 2000. This unfortunate reality is partly due to the fact that many moms with low education and skills are unable to find stable, full-time jobs that pay a living wage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a person working a full-time job that pays the federal minimum wage would take home an annual paycheck that is below the poverty threshold for a family of one adult and two children under 18.

Students receive third lowest ACT test scores
Louisiana’s average ACT score dropped by nearly a full point, and the state’s scores were the third lowest in the nation, ahead of only Mississippi and North Carolina, according to figures released Tuesday. State Education Superintendent John White said the poor performance is due to a new rule that requires all high school seniors to take the exam – including those with no interest in enrolling in college. Some fear the decline in composite ACT scores could also harm some schools’ performance rankings because a new state law counts ACT results as 25 percent of a school’s state-issued letter grade. But the new rules could be a financial blessing to mediocre students across the state by making it easier to get free college tuition from the state. The state’s TOPS college scholarship program is available to anyone with a 2.5 grade point average who scores at or above the state average on the ACT.

Governor has an opportunity to interfere with wetland lawsuit
Gov. Bobby Jindal will have his first opportunity to interfere with a wetland lawsuit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies when a nominating committee considers whether to reappoint key members of the flood control board that filed the suit, according to The Advocate’s Jeff Adelson. “Though the administration has no direct control over who that committee will recommend as nominees for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East, the nominating process will likely ensure Jindal, who has harshly criticized the suit, will have the option of replacing two members who have spearheaded the effort.” The committee’s president and vice president, both of whom have been vocal supporters of the lawsuit, are seeking reappointment.

Teachers union extends olive branch to governor’s office
The Louisiana Association of Educators extended an offer to work with the governor and education officials on addressing issues of teacher tenure and student performance. The announcement comes as a state district court reviews the constitutionality of the governor’s signature Act 1 law, a series of legislative changes to teacher tenure, pay for performance and school board control. Gov. Jindal said he is willing to work with the union to improve educational opportunities for Louisiana’s students, but did not say he is willing to negotiate on issues specific to Act 1.

$15,080 – The annual salary of a full time, minimum wage worker in Louisiana, which is below the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 poverty threshold for a family of one adult and two children under 18. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Economic development “mega fund” is almost empty
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s determination to avoid revenue increases has meant budget holes often get plugged using various financial gimmicks and one-time revenues. It also means money the state socked away in various funds when times were good is now being drained. There is the Medicaid trust fund, which has been drained by $420 million and is on track to run dry within five years, and the rainy day fund, which is $255 million lighter than before. Now comes a report from The Lens that the Louisiana Mega-Project Development Fund has been whittled to $6.7 million, down from $150 million when Jindal took office. The money has been spent on a series of projects, including a chicken plant in north Louisiana and the Federal City project in Algiers. But with the fund virtually empty, critics wonder what Jindal’s successors will do to attract large-scale economic development projects.

Audit finds mental health privatization costs more than advertised
The state’s decision to privatize mental health and addictive disorder has turned out to be more expensive than forecast and has sown confusion among local human service districts that provide the care, according to a new audit. But even though the main contractor — Magellan Health Services — hasn’t lived up to the terms of its contract, the state has not sanctioned the company, the Associated Press reports.

Louisiana Head Start program loses $9 million; 1,400 students due to sequester
More than 1,400 students will be removed from Louisiana’s Head Start program due to a $9 million budget cut. The funding reduction is part of ongoing federal spending cuts called “the sequester,” which began on March 1. According to the Kids Count Data Center, nearly 24,000 students are enrolled in the federal program designed to promote school readiness for infants and young children from low-income families. Head Start will reduce its rolls by 57,000 students nationwide, the largest cut to the program since it was founded in 1965.

Lagniappe: The $8 billion Head Start budget is equivalent to how much Americans spent on Halloween last year.

States forecast health care enrollment above White House estimates
As health care advocates across the nation prepare to launch aggressive campaigns to enroll people in health insurance plans, those in states operating their own health care exchanges believe they can enroll more people than originally estimated. According to a USA Today poll, 19 states expect at least 8.5 million new customers to purchase insurance on the health care exchanges, which far exceeds the 7 million figure the White House considers a success. But accomplishing that goal isn’t easy, especially for those operating in states where the political climate opposes the health care law.

Stephanie Grace: Jindal could have spent own money on tax plan
The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace wants a refund of the $800,000 in taxpayer money that was spent to promote Gov. Bobby Jindal’s failed tax-shift plan. A better approach would have been to consult with legislators and interest groups up front, where the governor may have learned that there was little appetite for upending the state tax code along the lines he advocated. “Sorry, governor. This will go down as just one more way your drive to eliminate state income taxes and replace them with significantly higher sales taxes, at the urging of nobody in particular other than the sort of anti-tax purists with whom you’ve been hanging out lately, revealed just how much you’ve lost touch with your own constituents.”

$6.7 million - The amount of money remaining in the Louisiana Mega-Project Development Fund, down from $150 million when Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in 2008 (Source: The Lens)

Monday, Aug. 19, 2013
Taxpayers spent $800,000 to promote Jindal’s failed tax plan
Louisiana taxpayers shelled out nearly $800,000 for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s aborted plan to shift the state tax burden onto low- and middle-income residents. As The Advocate’s Michelle Millhollon reported Sunday, the money went to hire “an accounting firm, a website designer, a tax adviser, public relations consultants, a multi-media campaign creator, an outreach expert and eight temporary employees” to assist with the plan, which would have eliminated the state income tax in exchange for a higher, broader sales tax. As LBP explained in an analysis, eliminating the income tax would have negatively impacted the state’s economy while raising taxes on the bottom 60 percent of Louisiana households.

Louisiana public college students pay more, receive less
College students heading back to class this month in Louisiana are paying more – and getting less in return – than in earlier years, Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press writes. That’s largely because state support for higher education has dropped by $690 million since Jindal took office in 2008 (and that’s if you count the “one-time” money in this year’s budget. State general fund support is down by a whopping $1 billion – or 74 percent). Louisiana’s cuts are the largest in the country, according to a recent study by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The surprising truth about government fraud
Public Works LLC president Eric Schnurer writes the rate of fraud in the public sector is not unusually high compared to the private sector. Schnurer cites a report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) that finds a typical business loses 5 percent of its revenue to fraud each year — compared to 4 percent of food stamp benefits and 10 percent of Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Schnurer goes on to note a majority of federal fraud payments are the result of bureaucratic error (e.g. eligibility and payment calculation errors) rather than intentional fraud by beneficiaries.

Louisiana is the “largest” state in America
After eight years of ranking behind Mississippi, a new study by the Trust for America’s Health ranks Louisiana first in the nation for adult obesity rates. Nearly 35 percent of the state’s population is obese, including 40 percent of baby boomers (aged 45 to 60) and 30 percent of seniors (at least 65 years old). The report also finds Louisianans rank high in medical conditions and behaviors closely associated with obesity, such as diabetes (12 percent), physical inactivity (30 percent) and hypertension (38.3 percent).

$800,000 - The amount of taxpayer dollars spent to promote Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax shift proposal (Source: The Advocate)

Friday, Aug. 16, 2013
Changes to Medicaid eligibility criteria
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced several changes to the state’s Medicaid eligibility criteria on Friday. The changes include reductions in income limits for pregnant women who are eligible for LaMOMs (from 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 133 percent) and reductions in income limits for workers with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid Purchase Plans (from 250 percent FPL to 100 percent). DHH also announced the Disability Medicaid program will end on Jan. 1 and urges those currently enrolled in the Disability Medicaid program to apply for Supplemental Security Income as soon as possible. A list of the current Medicaid eligibility guidelines can be located here.

Lawmakers make a “political decision” to approve a $257 million tax package
State lawmakers approved a $257 million tax incentive package for South African energy giant Sasol Limited, despite concerns from the Legislature’s senior economist that the project would be a net revenue loser for the state. Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, told members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget the state would pay more in incentives than the project will produce in new revenue. But lawmakers dismissed Albrecht’s warnings and voted unanimously to approve the tax incentive package. The committee also approved a $60.9 million tax incentive package for a liquefied natural gas tanks project in eastern New Orleans.

Conservatives to propose Affordable Care Act alternative
A Republican study commission led by U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, is preparing to propose an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that will allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. As Nola.com reports, the Republican plan would also remove a federal mandate that businesses with 50 or more full-time workers provide health benefits. Instead, the GOP proposal would set aside $25 billion over 10 years for state operated high-risk plans for people with pre-existing conditions to buy insurance.

Officials worried about cost of maintaining new levee protection
As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalizes its upgrades to the levee system that protects residents living in some southeast Louisiana communities, local officials fear  they cannot raise enough revenues to pay for the levee systems’ ongoing maintenance costs. Those costs include keeping the levees at their proper heights, maintaining flood gates and operating pumping stations. The main financial burden falls on local levee authorities, which can propose tax mileage increases to pay for increasing operational costs. But authority representatives fear that they will not be able to generate enough public support to raise taxes.

134 percent – The growth of Louisiana’s natural gas production between 2005 and 2011 (Source: Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council via Nola.com)

Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013
Social mobility and the (fading) American dream
The landmark study on social mobility released earlier this month — which found that many American children have a harder time climbing the economic ladder than their European or Canadian counterparts — is the subject of Fareed Zakaria’s column in The Washington Post. He notes that while strong “social capital” (strong families, civic institutions, etc) and the design of cities (making sure low-income people are close to jobs) contribute to mobility, the fastest way to turn things around is through changes in public policy.  “And here … the United States is the great outlier. Simply put, the United States spends much less on the education and well-being of poor people, especially poor children, than any other rich country — and that retards their chances of escaping poverty.”

The challenge of helping the uninsured find coverage
Nonprofits across the country will learn today whether or not they will receive federal funding to hire “navigators” — workers whose primary responsibility will be to educate and help enroll citizens into the new health insurance plans offered in the health exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. But there’s a problem: The Obama administration has only $54 million to hire navigators across the 34 states that opted for federal exchanges — including Louisiana. The New York Times writes this limited funding will challenge organizations to successfully educate the uninsured about their health options while operating on shoestring budgets.

How will Louisiana replenish its rainy day fund?
Like most states, Louisiana has a “Rainy Day Fund” to help state government keep basic services running during lean budget years. The fund came in handy when revenues tanked during the Great Recession, and legislators tapped it twice to the tune of $255 million. But now the bill is coming due, The Lens reports.  Under a proposed legal settlement with a former legislator who challenged the use of the fund, the state must come up with $323 million to replenish the fund by July 1, 2015. That’s bad news for a state that is still running annual budget shortfalls – including a projected $562 million gap between revenues and expenses in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Louisiana nursing homes rank second worst in the U.S.
Louisiana is paying more for less when it comes to nursing homes. The nonprofit Families For Better Care ranked Louisiana nursing homes second worst in the nation on its national nursing home report card, saying the state’s nursing home residents receive “a paltry 32 minutes of professional nursing care per day” and “Louisiana has the fewest number of facilities with above-average registered nurse staffing.” Louisiana’s nursing homes also have the lowest levels of direct care staffing, registered nurse staffing and percentage of facilities with deficiencies. Despite these poor results, state lawmakers voted last year to protect funding for nursing homes’ Medicaid provider rates — placing other health care providers, higher education and public safety at risks for future budget cuts when the state faces a shortfall.

State treasurer says most non-compliant NGOs still unresponsive
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy reported Wednesday that more than half of the non-governmental organizations currently out of compliance with state reporting laws have not responded to his office’s demands for financial statements. Groups that fail to reply by Sept. 4 run the risk of losing their state funding. The state distributed more than $2 million to groups that have received final demand letters from Kennedy’s office, according to state records made publically available on Nola.com.

LSU Board of Supervisors found in contempt for not disclosing public records
State District Judge Janice Clark found the LSU Board of Supervisors in contempt of court for ignoring a court order to disclose the names of the candidates considered to serve as the university system’s president. The Advocate writes Clark also fined LSU $500 a day for each day the records are not produced, placing the board on the hook for $46,000 as of Wednesday. The board says it was advised by its attorney not to comply with Clark’s ruling because disclosing the names would forfeit the board’s option to appeal the case since the issue would be moot.

$323 million - The amount the state must repay to the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, by July 1, 2015 (Source: The Lens)

Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013
K+8: Construction, “knowledge industries” drive New Orleans recovery
The New Orleans region weathered the Great Recession far better than most – losing fewer net jobs than other Southern cities and recovering faster – but questions linger about “how much of New Orleans’ success has been supported by one-time recovery investments that are tapering.” That was a key takeaway from “New Orleans Index at Eight,” published this morning by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. Entrepreneurship is up, the economy is diversifying and the number of bicycle paths has grown exponentially since 2000, according to the report. But there also are signs of trouble: Educational attainment remains stagnant, especially among black men, air quality remains poor and the city’s long-term survival remains threatened by coastal erosion. An Associated Press write-up about the report is here.

Study: Tax credits to offset higher cost of individual coverage
Nearly half of the families who will be required to buy individual health coverage next year will have the cost cushioned by federal tax credits. So says a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found the tax credits will average $5,548 per family – or about two-thirds of the cost of “silver” coverage that will be available through the health-insurance exchanges established under the new federal health-care law. While the study doesn’t offer state-by-state breakdowns, the percentage is likely to be even higher in Louisiana, which has a high poverty rate and thus more low-income families who’ll be eligible for tax credits.

Lottery shifts $160 million to state treasury for public education
Louisiana lottery players lost $447 million last year — $160 million of which went to state coffers to help pay for education programs. That’s the second-highest yield to the state since the lottery began in 1991. The Associated Press attributes the surge to large Powerball jackpots and the popularity of scratch-off games. The lottery has generated more than $2.7 billion to the state treasury since its establishment.

Same-sex couples in Louisiana await federal rules on insurance
Same-sex couples living in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages are awaiting a decision by the IRS to determine how the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision affects their health insurance benefits. The central issue comes down to whether the IRS will recognize same-sex marriages based on where the couple lives or where they were married. Under the former scenario, which is also the status quo, couples living in states that don’t recognize their marriage are required to pay federal income taxes on the value of insurance benefits from their employers. The latter scenario would eliminate those payments. The IRS’ decision could also affect same-sex couples’ eligibility to retain their employer coverage for up to 18 months when an employee loses his or her job.

Lawsuit alleges cops gave illegal speeding tickets on Atchafalaya Basin Bridge
The Advocate reports that St. Landry Parish residents filed a class action lawsuit seeking more than $2 million in refunds from the Henderson Police Department for using an illegal ticket quota system that paid officers a $15 commission for each ticket issued to drivers exiting the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. The lawsuit also claims police officers routinely gave tickets outside their jurisdiction. The Henderson town limits stop short of the Basin bridge, but that didn’t preclude officers from stopping drivers for violating the bridge’s 60 mph speed limit as they exit into a 70 mph zone.

52.2 - The percent of Louisiana renters whose rent is greater than 30 percent of their household income. (Source: AARP)

Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013
The large, long-term costs of small, short-term loans
Patricia Guy never realized her $2,525 loan from an online payday lender would cost an additional $11,412.12 in interest over four years. But that’s exactly what happened. Now, Guy spends nearly $300 from her monthly Social Security payment and pension to repay her loan, which carries an annual percentage rate of 139.13. The Alexandria Town Talk featured Guy’s story and described the multiple strategies payday lenders use to trap customers in long-term cycles of debt. Payday lenders are highly concentrated in Louisiana, outnumbering McDonald’s restaurants by four-to-one. Borrowers in Louisiana paid approximately $205 million in fees for 4.1 million transactions in 2008 alone.

Louisiana House Speaker comments on higher education; anti-sodomy law
Higher education in Louisiana has been studied by two blue-ribbon commissions in recent years, even as overall state support fell to the lowest levels since the 1950s. Now Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley wants college leaders to develop a unified plan to improve funding for their schools. He offered no ideas of his own, and said the goal should not necessarily be to provide colleges with more money but to make funding more stable and predictable. State funding for higher education has been cut by nearly $700 million over the past five years, while tuition has gone up by 74 percent since 2008. The current-year budget for higher education includes more than $200 million in “one-time” funding that won’t be available next year.

Kleckley also said he would not seek to repeal an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law from Louisiana’s criminal statutes. The law’s existence made headlines earlier this month after the East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s office used the unenforceable law to arrest gay men agreeing to have consensual sex with undercover agents. The U.S. Supreme Court declared anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional 10 years ago.

PEW study finds broad support for sentencing and corrections reforms
A national study on prison reform conducted by The PEW Chartable Trusts shows overwhelming support for policies that shift non-violent offenders from prisons to more effective, less expensive alternatives. “The poll tested public support for a variety of sentencing and correction reforms, and there is widespread support for shorter sentences and alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes, especially when prison savings are reinvested in less costly supervision options.” PEW says the support for prison and sentencing reforms is strong across political parties, religions and racial/ethnic groups.

Attorney general bans off-duty police from carrying guns into bars
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell announced Monday that off-duty police officers are not allowed to carry their guns into bars unless they are acting on official police business, according to information obtained by Nola.com. Caldwell’s decision provides clarification on the current state law, which State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, sought to change with a bill filed during this year’s legislative session. That bill would have allowed off-duty law enforcement officers to carry guns into establishments that sell alcohol for consumption on the premises, but bill died in committee.

New Orleans BioDistrict falls well short of projected budget
A new report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor raises concerns about the sustainability of the agency created to oversee New Orleans’ evolving Mid-City “bio district.” The Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development fell well short of its projected revenue — generating only $175,000 of the planned $1.6 million it had planned to raise. Auditors also found that agency’s expenses exceeded revenues, leaving the organization with a negative fund balance of $252,550 at the end of December. State lawmakers created the BioDistrict in 2005 to oversee redevelopment of portions of the Central Business District and Mid-City into a medical corridor.

$205 million - The amount of money Louisiana payday loan borrowers paid in interest and fees for 4.1 million transactions in 2008 (Source: Louisiana Budget Project)

Monday, Aug. 12, 2013
In states that don’t expand Medicaid, some uninsured may still get help
Low-income uninsured Americans living in states like Louisiana that refuse to accept federal Medicaid expansion might still be able to get federal assistance for health coverage. According to Kaiser Health News, “…the key is for them to project their 2014 income to at least the federal poverty level, about $11,500 per person or $23,500 for a family of four. That would entitle them to federal subsidies that would cover nearly all the cost of private coverage sold on new online insurance marketplaces set up by the federal health law.” The U.S. Treasury Department warns that people who knowingly lie on a government documents can face steep fines and penalties, but those who merely miscalculate their income above the poverty level in 2014 and are later found to have made less than the poverty level won’t have to return any money.

Lawmakers refuse to rubber-stamp taxpayer dollars to fund corporate entitlements
I have a problem with this because I don’t know how many dollars you’re asking for.” With those words from state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee took the rare step of refusing to rubber-stamp a package of tax incentives until Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration provides more details. The deals involve state incentives for a $21 billion natural gas processing facility planned for the Lake Charles region, and a $3 million investment by Lockheed Martin Corp. at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. While Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said any postponement would send a negative message to the companies, lawmakers asked for more time after learning that the Legislative Fiscal Office had not received information from the administration that it had requested months ago.

Legislators’ concerns partially originate from a state audit released in April that determined Louisiana lost $170 million in 2010 from its generous film tax credit program. The state’s tax code spending also increased by 167 percent between 2001 and 2011, largely without annual legislative review. Approved tax exemptions are difficult to modify, allowing a minority of lawmakers to protect the exemptions that benefit their favored industries or other special interests — even if the exemptions are not supported by a majority of their colleagues.

Charity hospital partnerships pushing health care costs onto local jails
Louisiana’s decision to privatize its charity hospitals is shifting health care costs toward local jails, Lafayette Parish Correctional Center Warden Rob Reardon said last week. The warden told the Lafayette Consolidated Government council that his health care costs grew significantly when the state transferred University Medical Center to the private Lafayette General Health System. Prior to the merge, UMC helped the local jail system defray health care costs by assisting with HIV treatment, dental care, obstetrics and gynecological services, neurological scans, clinics and lab tests. These services are now being funded with $15.4 million from the Department of Corrections’ budget.

Unconstitutional laws remain on the books in Louisiana
Are Louisiana lawmakers reluctant to remove unconstitutional laws on issues like sodomy and abortion from state statute because they are afraid of appearing supportive of these causes? That’s the question posed by Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte in her Louisiana Spotlight column on Monday. Deslatte writes, “…lawmakers have been reticent to remove several laws deemed unenforceable — on areas like sodomy, creationism and abortion. Some lawmakers simply disagree with the court rulings and stubbornly don’t want to rewrite the law. But other legislators are worried about seeming to be supportive of gay rights, evolution, abortion or any other area that can be politically tricky in a conservative state, and they decide there’s no harm in keeping unconstitutional and unenforceable laws in statute.” You can read more from the Louisiana Spotlight column here.

Aug.-12-NOTD

Friday, Aug. 9, 2013
U.S. Chamber and political leaders support early childhood education
Researchers have known for years that some of the best public investments involve high-quality, early learning programs that reach children from birth to age 5. The long-term, positive results include higher academic performance, better graduation rates and lower costs for health care and social welfare.  Now that message appears to be hitting home with the business community, which needs today’s children to grow into the productive workers of tomorrow.  “Early childhood education is not an entitlement. It’s an investment in the future,” Brian Maher, a retired CEO, told an audience of business and political leaders. The general public appears to be catching on as well. Polls show 84 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Independents and 60 percent of Republicans support President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative, which remains in limbo on Capitol Hill.

Economics of the Affordable Care Act: David Cutler, Harvard University
Harvard University professor David M. Cutler analyzed the economics of the Affordable Care Act for the New York Times on Wednesday, concluding the federal health care changes will have an overall positive net impact on the economy. Cutler says ACA’s cost reductions will allow more productive investments in the economy. He also notes the act will have several major benefits for the work force: “Universal insurance coverage would free workers to move to their most productive job or to start a business. Other studies have shown that greater access to health insurance encourages people on disability insurance to work more, reducing the cost for that program. Then there are the costs of workers missing work (absenteeism) or being less productive at work because they are ill… The Affordable Care Act will not eliminate these costs — people will still get sick, after all — but it is likely to reduce them.”

State attempting to sell 62-year-old ferry for $200,000
It’s the end of an era for one retired state ferry. Officials are hoping to sell the 62-year-old, 17 car carrying ferry named the Saint Charles for $200,000 during an auction on Saturday. It was pulled from service in June after serving 24 years transporting commuters across the Mississippi River between White Castle and Carville. Those individuals will now have to travel an extra 40 to 60 miles a day. Plaquemine’s port captain Delos Turner told The Advocate potential buyers can use the ferry as a camp or an excursion boat. “You have to be a little creative (and) use your imagination.”

Americans can’t make a living wage at their jobs: NY Times Editorial Board
Recent strikes by fast-food workers highlight the disturbing fact that a growing number of American workers do not receive a living wage at their jobs, according to the New York Times. Part of the blame lies with the federal minimum wage, which has a lower value today than any point in recent history. In fact, the $7.25 per hour minimum wage would be closer to $10 per hour had it kept pace with inflation over the last 50 years, and $17 an hour if it kept pace with average labor productivity.

33 - The percent of Louisiana households who rented in December 2012

Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013
Developers will build without state subsidy
Note to policymakers: It turns out that massive mixed-use real estate projects in fast-growing suburbs can actually be built without state subsidies. That’s what we learned in this morning’s Advocate, where the developers of Juban Crossing announced they still plan to move forward with their long-delayed plans to build stores, hotels and other amenities near the intersection of Juban Road and I-12 in Livingston Parish. This entirely predictable turn of events came after Gov. Bobby Jindal wisely vetoed legislation that would have redirected $45 million in state tax dollars to help pay for the project. While Livingston Parish has already agreed to put up some sales-tax money to pay for the project, the developers said they still plan to go through with construction if parish officials balk at a proposal to sweeten the deal.

71,000 Louisianans would lose federal food aid under House GOP plan
Republican leaders in the U.S. House plan to introduce a bill in early September that doubles their proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to $40 billion over the next 10 years. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the bill will throw people off SNAP if they can’t find at least a half-time job after three months. The bill does not take into account local unemployment trends, which poses a major obstacle given that Louisiana’s unemployment rate is on track to surpass the national average. CBPP estimates the proposed cuts will result in 71,000 unemployed Louisianans losing their federal food assistance.

U.S. Rep. Alexander becomes state Department of Veteran Affairs secretary
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, will become the next secretary of Louisiana’s new Department of Veterans Affairs. Alexander is joining the Jindal administration one day after he cited the partisan acrimony on Capitol Hill in announcing he would not seek re-election. The special primary election for Alexander’s seat is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19 and the general runoff election for Nov. 16. State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, is the only person to officially announce his candidacy in the special election. The 5th congressional district spans from northeastern Louisiana to St. Landry Parish to parts of the Baton Rouge metro area and Washington Parish.

Wetland lawsuit faces first test
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East will be able to determine whether it has enough support to move forward with its massive lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies after lawmakers and other flood protection districts have an opportunity to evaluate the lawsuit. Many lawmakers and other levee boards fear the lawsuit will adversely affect their relationship with the oil companies. They also question whether the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East has the standing to sue oil and gas companies, and they want clarity on how the lawsuit will affect ongoing efforts to increase Louisiana’s share of federal oil and gas revenues.

U.S. jobless claims fall below Great Recession levels
New data from the U.S. Labor Department finds the average number of people who applied for unemployment benefits over the past four weeks has fallen to its lowest level since November 2007, the month before the Great Recession began. According to the Associated Press, the unemployment figures are improving largely because layoffs have also fallen to prerecession levels. But many employers remain reluctant to hire new employees in the face of tax increases, federal spending cuts and slower global growth.

71,000 - the number of unemployed Louisianans who risk losing their federal food assistance under a new food stamp bill by U.S. House Republicans (Source: CBPP)

Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013
State attempts to lease two north LA hospitals to its own landlord
From the Associated Press comes a troubling in-depth look at the partnership agreement that is supposed to oversee the state hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe. Under a deal approved last spring by the LSU Board of Supervisors, the hospitals will be run by a nonprofit research foundation that has never run a patient care facility.  As Melinda Deslatte reports, the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana is supposed to pay the state $40 million a year to lease the two hospitals for the next decade. But the foundation had only $13 million in revenues in 2011, and appears to get most of its money from two sources: local property taxes, and lease income from the state. To help make the numbers work, the state recently doubled the money it was paying the foundation to lease space, which of course will then be turned back over to the state as part of the new deal. If this makes sense to you, there is a job waiting in the Jindal administration.

Poverty and education: The debate continues
The ongoing debate about the role that poverty plays in educational outcomes continues Wednesday in the pages of The Times-Picayune. Retired principal Robert Ferris says state Education Superintendent John White and columnist Robert Mann are correct in identifying poverty as an important factor in educational success, but disagrees with White’s prescriptions to fix the problem. “Tests piled on tests do not educate; sending our poorest children to the least-funded schools does not educate; blaming the students, parents, teachers and schools does not educate. Every child — regardless of ZIP code or family income — deserves a high-quality, engaging and enriched education,” Ferris writes.

Longest serving Louisiana member of the U.S. House will not seek reelection
Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, the longest serving member of the Louisiana House delegation, will not to seek re-election in 2014, Nola.com reports. Alexander says his decision to vacate the office is due to strong partisanship in Congress. “Unfortunately, I do not foresee this environment to change anytime soon. I have decided not to seek reelection, so that another may put forth ideas on how to break through the gridlock and bring about positive change for our country.” Alexander has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003.

Health reform gives young adults coverage choices
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Vice-President for Health Policy Judy Solomon explains how the Affordable Care Act benefits adults under age 26 by giving them multiple coverage options. “Health reform has already benefitted adults under age 26 by allowing them to obtain health insurance coverage under their parents’ policies — a feature of the law that is providing coverage to more than 3 million young adults.  Millions more will gain access to coverage in 2014, when new, federally financed premium subsidies will help reduce what low- and moderate-income people will have to pay for coverage.”

Drivers deserve a break on old tolls: Nola.com Editorial
The Nola.com Editorial Board writes that the state Department of Transportation and Development should stop billing residents for alleged toll violations going back three years or more. Nola.com says some motorists will have difficulty disputing tickets because alleged infractions occurred so long ago, while others will face challenges navigating the appeals process. The Editorial Board also references a report from the Bureau of Governmental Research that concluded only 19 cents of every dollar in tolls went to maintaining and policing the bridge, while 16 cents went to administering tolls.

 $45,918,909 - Louisiana’s net economic loss in 2011 due to payday lending interest payments (Source: Insight Center for Community and Economic Development)

 

Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013
Veterans without VA clinic access would benefit from Medicaid expansion
CBS Evening News reports that Congress is delaying the construction for 27 Veterans Administration clinics nationwide – including two in Louisiana – because of a disagreement over accounting practices. As a result, 340,000 veterans nationwide lack access to proper care. A recent study by the Urban Institute concluded that around 9,900 Louisiana veterans and 4,000 of their spouses would be eligible for better healthcare under the federal Medicaid expansion, meaning the expansion could serve as a valuable supplement for veterans in areas without adequate VA clinic access and those who don’t qualify for VA coverage.

Federal government approves LSU-Our Lady of the Lake partnership
The partnership between LSU and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge has received final approval from the federal government, The Advocate reports. The deal guarantees extra Medicaid funding for inpatient and outpatient care of the poor and uninsured treated at the Lake. The arrangement is the first of LSU’s public-private partnerships to receive federal approval – and is considered the most lucrative deal of the ones that have been signed so far.

Angola inmates testify about ‘indescribable’ heat
The first day of a federal trial against the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola began in Baton Rouge on Monday with two Death Row inmates testifying that “indescribable” heat levels put them at a higher risk for heat-related illness, according to Nola.com. Meanwhile, District Judge Brian Jackson was angered by revelations that Angola officials may have tampered with a data-collection process he ordered in June by installing an awning and blasting the tiers with cold water.

Education leader believes diploma system needs re-evaluation
Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White said Monday that the state must overhaul its system of offering three different high school diplomas to better prepare students for careers after graduation. “We need one Louisiana diploma, not a three-part caste system,” White told the Baton Rouge Press Club. High school students can currently receive a “career” diploma that prepares them for jobs or community or technical schools; a “Core 4” diploma that focuses on college preparatory; and a “basic” diploma that is aimed at getting students ready for community or technical college.

Letter: Why shouldn’t oil and gas companies pay
P&J Oyster Co. Inc. president Alfred Sunseri added his voice to the debate over a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies who built pipeline canals through Louisiana’s wetlands. “Why should the taxpayers of Louisiana be burdened with the expense to repair damages the oil and gas companies caused when they’ve reaped the financial benefit of exploiting our oil and gas nonrenewable resources? Who gets a pass when they damage another one’s property and are not liable to restore the damaged property to its original condition? Why should residents in coastal Louisiana be saddled with increasingly unaffordable flood insurance premiums because of the lack of wetlands protection?

 
32.2 percent - The poverty rate for Louisiana children less than five-years-old. (Source: Child Welfare League of America)

Monday, Aug. 5, 2013
Six Louisiana cities among nations 10 most expensive for health care
Two articles from the weekend papers help explain why health-care reform is so critical for the country – and Louisiana in particular. First comes a new study by the Institute of Medicine, reported by Nola.com, which found that six of the 10 most expensive places to buy health care in the nation are in Louisiana. Monroe, Alexandria, Lafayette, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and Metairie all made the list, by far the most of any state. Texas and Florida – two other states that share Louisiana’s distinction of having high numbers of uninsured residents – each had two cities in the top 10. The authors of the study said Louisiana’s above-average spending is likely due to the high volume of services provided to patients after they leave the hospital, such as home health care, skilled nursing, rehabilitation, long-term care and hospice.

Meanwhile, the New York Times continued its invaluable series of stories about America’s health-care costs, which are the highest in the world by a considerable margin. Sunday’s entry looked at the booming business for artificial limbs and joints, which, not surprisingly, cost more in the U.S. than just about anywhere. The story is told through the eyes of an Indiana man who managed to save more than $50,000 by going to Switzerland for a hip replacement.

Despite fears, Affordable Care Act will live up to its name
LBP analyst Steve Spires says most Louisianans who have health insurance will not notice any changes when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014. Spires notes that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the new law will slightly reduce premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in the near term. Spires also notes that new fees on health insurers will be used to finance tax credits for middle-class families to help them buy coverage. “The bottom line is the Affordable Care Act will increase access to affordable and comprehensive health coverage for uninsured Louisianans, and help reduce premiums for many families and small businesses.”

Louisiana teachers share their stories of child poverty: Robert Mann
Bob Mann continued his ongoing series of Nola.com columns about poverty with a look at how it often affects academic performance. Mann spoke to several teachers, who shared stories about students with undiagnosed hearing problems, abusive living arrangements and parents who “rent hop” from apartment to apartment throughout the year to save money on living expenses – all of which contributes to low academic performance that teachers are expected to fix.  “These and many other stories I heard from teachers over the past weeks put in context what decades of studies suggest: If we want to reform our schools, we should stop blaming dedicated teachers for their inability to fix problems that are not of their making.”

Budget cuts take a toll on state parks
Six straight years of strained budgets have taken their toll on the state park system, which has been forced to use money set aside for maintenance to cover day-to-day operating expenses. While Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is proposing to deal with this problem by doubling park entrance fees and other charges, in effect making the parks’ customers pay a higher share of the burden. But as The Advocate warns in an editorial, this could mean fewer visitors to the parks and make them less accessible to people of modest means. “That’s why we hope that the governor and lawmakers can find more money for state parks and historic sites in next year’s budget,” the newspaper writes. “A state park system in disrepair doesn’t live up to Louisiana’s promise as a sportsman’s paradise.”

22.1 percent - The portion of the average Louisiana family’s income spent on health insurance premiums in 2011. (Source: The Commonwealth Fund)

 

Friday, Aug. 2, 2013
Gov. Jindal was right before, Medicaid is key to health care for the uninsured
There was a time when expanding health coverage was seen as the best way to improve Louisiana’s poor health rankings. Gov. Bobby Jindal supported this idea as recently as November 2008, he was pushing for the “Louisiana Health First” plan, which would have let Louisiana use Medicaid dollars to buy private health coverage for low-income parents and caregivers who earned up to 50 percent of the federal poverty rate – an estimated 60,000 people. Read about that plan and our prescription for Louisiana’s healthcare needs in our op-ed in the Times-Picayune.

Higher education funding cut by $1 billion since 2009; tuition increased 74 percent
State funding for higher education was cut by more than $1 billion since Fiscal Year 2009, according to new figures from the Legislative Fiscal Office. Much of the cut has been filled by sharp increases in tuition – also known as “self-generated revenue” – which is up 74 percent since FY2008. But even with rising tuition, overall spending on higher education is down nearly 12 percent under this administration, and state support for higher education is at its lowest levels since the 1950s.

State wastes $15 million on unused ice during Isaac
The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness wasted $15 million on unused ice in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, according to a new report from the state Office of Inspector General. According to Nola.com, “As a result of an underdeveloped tracking system and mismanaged contracts with the suppliers, only 6 million pounds of the 34 million pounds ordered from Pelican Ice made it to the public.”  The remaining 28 million pounds were distributed to private companies, reallocated to other state departments or allowed to melt in an unused Lacombe warehouse.

Is water the state’s new big business: John Maginnis
Louisiana’s powerful oil and gas lobby is concerned state officials will begin charging the industry for its consumption of water from sources like rivers and streams. As John Maginnis writes in his weekly newsletter, “What makes groups like the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association worry are the statements of officials that the state’s water supply will replace even oil and gas as the big money commodity of the 21st century, although right now the vast majority of energy companies and other water-reliant businesses aren’t paying for tapping running surface waters.”

Legislators approve state property sales to help balance budget
Members of the state House and Senate Committees on Natural Resources approved the sale of two state properties Thursday as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to keep the state budget in balance. The parcels – an office building at 150 Third Street in Baton Rouge and the Point Clair Farm near St. Gabriel – are appraised to sell for $10.25 million and $12 million, respectively. State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, was the sole lawmaker to vote against the Baton Rouge property sale, saying the state could save $1 million a year in rents by moving three agencies out of their rented offices and into the vacant office building.
60.9 percent - Growth in the number of women-owned businesses in Louisiana over the last 15 years.

Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013
How the Affordable Care Act benefits Louisiana
The White House issued a report this week touting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act on Louisiana residents. Among the biggest beneficiaries of the new federal law is the 1.95 million non-elderly Louisianans with pre-existing conditions, who can no longer be excluded from coverage. That includes 265,855 Louisiana children with pre-existing conditions like asthma and diabetes. A separate study by LBP found the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision would provide better access to care for 400,000 Louisianans — including 240,000 working Louisianans who today have no health insurance coverage.

But complaints about the law persist, including from the insurance companies who stand to get thousands of new customers. In a letter to the Advocate, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana chief Mike Reitz says the law is too expensive for the state’s consumers and small businesses. But rejecting the new federal law would expose employers in Louisiana to more than $70 million a year in penalties, according to the national tax preparation firm Jackson-Hewitt. Reitz also overlooks the federal law’s benefits to Louisiana’s businesses and the economy, such as creating a healthier workforce, strengthening the private insurance market and bringing as much as $15.8 billion in new federal health care revenues into the state over the next decade.

Billionaire New Orleans Saints owner receives $400 million in state subsidies
The wealthiest man in Louisiana — worth $1.2 billion — is set to receive nearly $400 million in state subsidies over the next decade, according to Forbes. New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson will accumulate an estimated $392 million from state subsidies through 2025. Most of the subsidies result from lucrative deals Benson negotiated with state officials to renovate the Superdome and lease property from Benson Towers. The state also directly paid the Saints $5 million in cash last season and will pay the franchise $5 million every time the Super Bowl comes to New Orleans.

Hundreds of new laws go into effect today
Nearly 250 new laws went into effect today, ranging from lifetime concealed handgun permits to a ban on tweeting while driving to a state response to a salt dome disaster in Assumption Parish. The Advocate reports additional laws now in effect include establishing mental health courts, expanding the state’s infant “safe haven” program, requiring schools to drill crisis response plans and easing the sale of cookies and cakes from home.

Millions denied bank accounts for minor errors
A new report by The New York Times uncovered a growing trend of mainstream banks blacklisting millions of Americans from opening new bank accounts due to minor mistakes like a bounced check or a small overdraft. This practice disproportionately affects Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck and is contributing to the growth of the roughly 10 million households that lack a banking account. Many of the individuals affected by the growing trend say they lose a considerable percentage of their paycheck due to fees for cashing checks, paying bills and wiring money.

265,855 - The number of Louisiana children with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, who can no longer be denied for health insurance coverage.

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