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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Next year’s budget for state colleges and universities would be financed with the help of $100 million meant for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans if Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has its way. The transfer, reported by The Advocate, is likely to draw strong opposition from New Orleans-area legislators. It’s part of $424 million in one-time money that’s being plugged into the budget as a way of avoiding deeper cuts.
Superintendent of Education John White has come up with a plan that he thinks can sidestep ongoing concerns about the constitutionality of the way Louisiana’s school voucher plan is currently funded. The plan, which White outlined to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and confirmed for nola.com, would fund the vouchers through local school boards instead of directly through the Minimum Foundation Program, which is constitutionally mandated to finance public schools.
While politicians were dedicating a statue to Rosa Parks on Wednesday in Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments about whether to strike down one of the key victories from the Civil Rights era – the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires states with a history of voting suppression to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before changing voting rules. Columnist Charles Blow of the New York Times says the law is needed now more than ever.
The legislators who steered last year’s school voucher law through the Legislature now want to tie state funding for colleges to their graduation and retention rates, The Advocate reports. The plan by state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, and Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who chair their chambers’ respective education committees, would require schools to have graduation rates that are at least equal to their Southern peer institutions to receive their full share of state funding.
State Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, wants to know if the Jindal administration can privatize the LSU hospital system without input from the Legislature, and wants Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to weigh in on the matter.
$780,635,068 – Total cut to LSU Health Care Services Division (which runs the seven South Louisiana state hospitals) proposed in the governor’s executive budget. (Source: Executive Budget)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The public debate over Medicaid expansion escalated Tuesday when U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu blasted Gov. Bobby Jindal for refusing to accept federal money to extend Louisiana’s Medicaid coverage to as many as 400,000 low-income adults beginning in 2014. Landrieu accused Jindal of refusing the money on political grounds. Jindal, through his press office, repeated his characterization of Medicaid as an “outdated” program that needs reform before the governor will deign to let federal tax dollars provide a health-care safety net for his constituents.
While Jindal dug in his heels, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became the eighth GOP chief executive to change his mind about the expansion, joining his conservative counterparts in Florida, Ohio, Arizona and elsewhere. As the Obamacare holdouts start to dwindle, a Houston Chronicle cartoonist drew a comparison to those poor Japanese soldiers who didn’t realize World War II had ended until long after the last shots had been fired.
Are there fissures emerging on the far right over Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax-shift plan? A letter in Wednesday’s Advocate from the conservative Heartland Institute, a think tank mostly known as a skeptic of climate change and its support of the cigarette industry, is mostly full of praise for the governor’s plan. But the group is unhappy with the governor’s plan to raise the tobacco tax. “A tax system filled with tax increases on targeted items such as tobacco or subsidies for certain businesses, however, is not sound policy,” Matthew Glans writes.
The governor’s executive budget assumes the state can successfully sell six tracts of property around south Louisiana to drum up $47 million to help pay for public colleges, according to the Associated Press. None of the deals are complete, and lawmakers have been hesitant about approving some of the sales. If the property sales don’t produce the anticipated revenues, Louisiana’s colleges will face a new round of cuts under the governor’s spending plans.
An analysis by the Louisiana Budget Project looks at a health-care waiver program in the New Orleans area that is providing funding for a network of neighborhood clinics. The waiver funding is expiring at the end of the year, and without Medicaid expansion many of these health clinics are likely to face financial hardships in 2014.
Around 90,000 college students in the state’s largest college and university system can expect tuition increases next semester. The University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a 10 percent tuition hike at all nine of its campuses, which now must be approved by the state Board of Regents. The move comes just days after Gov. Jindal a proposed state budget that relies on $75 million in tuition increases to help offset about $209 million in cuts from Louisiana’s colleges, universities and hospitals.
47 million – The amount of money in Gov. Jindal’s proposed executive budget that is contingent upon the sale of six tracts of state property. (Source: The Associated Press)
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
The Associated Press, in a lengthy take-out meant for national consumption, compares Gov. Bobby Jindal’s national ambitions to the deepening troubles he is facing at home. “The new head of the Republican Governors Association has made a series of cuts to health services and colleges, drawing criticism from affected constituents and Republicans who say he’s not cut enough,” write Bill Barrow and Melinda Deslatte. “And while he delighted conservative policy wonks nationally with his signature measures overhauling education and public employee pensions, those laws are tied up in state court as Republican judges claim constitutional concerns.”
Jindal spoke about the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect Friday after a meeting at the White House with some fellow governors, saying the president is simply trying to scare the American people by releasing new data showing state-by-state impacts of the automatic spending cuts. Sequestration would have many effects in Louisiana, including cutting 1,400 children from Head Start and Early Head Start services, furloughing 7,000 civilian Department of Defense employees, and removing 600 disadvantaged children from child care assistance.
State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D- Carencro, is offering an alternative plan for managing Louisiana’s public hospitals. Instead of entering into a series of public-private partnerships, Ortego’s proposal would transition the oversight of public hospitals from LSU to the state regional human services districts in the area where the hospital is located. Ortego says his idea gives local communities more control over hospitals, and he plans to meet with administration officials this week to further vet the idea.
The high-stakes civil lawsuit against BP for its role in the 2010 oil spill began Monday, with a U.S. Justice Department attorney charging that the London-based oil giant bears most of the blame because it cut corners and put profits ahead of safety. In its defense, BP threw most of the blame on rig owner Transocean Ltd. and cement contractor Halliburton. BP, which already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges costing $24 billion, could be on the hook for nearly $18 billion under the terms of the Clean Water Act.
Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler supports a lawsuit to repeal a key section of the Voting Rights Act. The law requires nine states with a history of voter discrimination to pre-clear any changes to voting laws with the Justice Department. While the act has effectively blocked 10 discriminatory laws in Louisiana since 2000, Schedler and others supporting the lawsuit believe the law allows the federal government to overstep its constitutional authority. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.
A preview of unpublished data from top researchers at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration concludes that Louisiana is in line for the highest rate of sea-level rise “on the planet.” The news comes as state officials continue to argue over restoration projects to save the state’s sinking, crumbling coast.
1,400 – The number of children who will be cut from Head Start and Early Head Start services due to sequestration. (Source: The White House)
Monday, February 25, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration released its $24.7 billion executive budget on Friday, causing some lawmakers to express concerns that it is packed with contingencies, such as the completion of public-private partnerships for privatizing several LSU hospitals. The budget also calls for college tuition increases, reduced state assistance for children with developmental delays and eliminating a free prescription drug program for the elderly.
An analysis by the Louisiana Budget Project puts the budget plan in the context of five straight years of cuts to K-12 education, public colleges and health-care.
Gov. Bobby Jindal went on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, where he called on the president to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act to avoid the automatic across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect on Friday. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick countered that the president already presented a plan to avoid the cuts that includes things Republicans support.
The White House released new data showing the effects of sequestrations on Louisiana. The impacts of the automatic spending cuts include: Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for about 1,400 children; about 7,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed one day per week; up to 600 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care assistance; and 1,730 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and Hepatitis B.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is fond of referring to Medicaid as an outdated, outmoded program that’s badly in need of reform. But Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein thinks the program is so terrific that 187,000 people would immediately drop their private health insurance if the state expanded Medicaid to cover the working poor. But other experts say fewer than half that many people are likely to switch from private coverage if Louisiana agrees to accept federal dollars to cover 400,000 adults.
$560 – Additional per-pupil funding that school districts would receive through the Minimum Foundation Program had state funding kept pace with inflation since 2009. (Source: LBP)
Friday, February 22, 2013
The eyes at the Capitol this morning will be on the state budget, as the administration presents Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $24.7 billion executive budget to legislators, outlining how he will cover a projected $1.3 billion revenue shortfall. The governor told reporters Thursday that the budget relies heavily on projected savings in the LSU hospital system, and that cuts to higher education will be offset by higher tuition. The governor also included funding for school vouchers in the Minimum Foundation Program, despite a district judge ruling that the public-school financing formula is unconstitutional.
This year’s budget deliberations will occur simultaneously with a roiling debate about the governor’s tax shift proposal. Addressing a Baton Rouge luncheon audience Thursday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said the tax shift proposal is “dead on arrival” if it largely increases the tax burden on retirees and the poor.
A new report by the Louisiana Budget Project looks at the significant savings that the state would realize if Louisiana were to accept billions of federal dollars that are available to extend Medicaid coverage to as many as 400,000 low-income adults beginning in 2014. When savings are compared to the cost of implementing Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, the expansion becomes a break-even proposition.
A report by the New York Times explores how seven Republican governors moved away from their party and accepted federal Medicaid expansion for their states. One recent governor to accept federal Medicaid expansion for his state, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, noted that doing so would not only save lives, but also create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Louisiana’s state workforce has shrunk by 11.8 percent in the last five years – one of the largest reductions in the nation, according to a report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. In addition to layoffs, many current rank-and-file state employees have not received a pay increase in several years.
Weekend reading: A remarkably thorough investigation by Time magazine into the high cost of health care in America, which tries to figure out why some patients are charged $283 for chest x-rays that costs a hospital roughly $20.
$1.127 – The amount Louisiana would not have to spend on uninsured care over the next decade if the state accepted the federal Medicaid expansion (Source: LBP)
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Florida Gov. Rick Scott became the latest GOP executive to accept the federal Medicaid expansion, thus ratcheting up pressure on the dwindling few, like Gov. Bobby Jindal, who continue to reject the opportunity to cover 400,000 people at no initial cost to the state. Scott described the decision as a choice between “having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying health care to our citizens – or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other health-care reforms.”
Jindal recently told local press that he is holding firm on his rejection of a federal Medicaid expansion, despite a petition from over 350 organizations and individuals urging the governor to accept the expansion as the right choice for Louisiana.
More than 3,000 military civilians in Louisiana could lose a combined $19 million in pay if the president and Congress fail to reach a deal to avert automatic across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect March 1, according to Nola.com. The looming budget “sequestration” would force one-day-a-week furloughs for Army civilians that could last as long as 22 weeks. In addition, the Army could lose 809 military base contractor jobs in Louisiana.
Louisiana School Superintendent John White outlined his top priorities for the coming year in a plan called “Louisiana Believes 2012-13.” White’s top priorities include early childhood education, expanding teacher freedoms, reforming the way the state funds and operates special education programs, enhancing career education and eliminating F-rated schools.
A new study by Tulane University and LSU makes the case for expanding early childhood education and assistance in Louisiana. According to the study, spending on children in Louisiana has decreased over the past few years and the portion devoted to early childhood education has decreased at even faster rate. The study also found wide public support in Louisiana for expanding early childhood programs.
The LSU Foundation is continuing to withhold consulting contract details for some of the key players involved in planning a dramatic, top-to-bottom reorganization of the state’s flagship university. Since the consultants are being paid with private funds, the terms of those contracts aren’t subject to public records laws. Students and faculty members continue to express their concerns about a lack of transparency throughout the restructuring process and the cost of the restructuring.
3,139 – The number of Army civilians in Louisiana that would experience one-day-a-week furloughs if no deal between Congress and the President is reached to avert what is known as budget sequestration. (Source: Nola.com)
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
A new report from the Louisiana Budget Project outlines several reforms to the broken process that governs state tax exemptions. Louisiana lost more than $4.8 billion in 2011 from tax exemptions, a 167 percent increase since 2001. Once a tax break gets on the books, it drains state revenue year after year without legislative review.
Years of budget cuts, and the departure of top researchers, has left LSU “at the tipping point of going from a tier one to a tier two [university],” interim LSU System President William Jenkins told The Advocate. Jenkins said LSU has experienced a downward turn in research productivity over the past few years, and its faculty-student ratio has risen as faculty have left and taken their grant money with them.
Cutting state personal income taxes not only won’t promote small business growth and job creation, but it is also likely over time to threaten the success of entrepreneurs by taking resources away from critical services like education, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. CBPP notes that the vast majority of businesses that would receive a personal income tax cut are in no position to create jobs; most small businesses make too little money for tax cuts to produce enough income to pay new employees; and most small business owners are not significant “job creators” and have no plans to be.
A Stateline report from the Pew Charitable Trusts describes the challenges states face when they try to estimate revenue increases after restructuring their tax systems. The report warns that states may find themselves with far less revenue than expected after swapping one tax for another – mostly due to missing data. Although Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax shift plan will likely propose broadening the sales tax base to ensure it is “revenue neutral,” LSU economist James Richardson pointed out to Stateline that Louisiana will not know how much revenue the base broadening will raise until Louisiana actually taxes new services.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office does not believe state agencies should be able to accept donations on behalf of non-profits and direct how it is spent without getting approval from the Legislature. The controversy originated out of a three-year program created by BP, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, and other state agencies following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which allowed the state agencies to manage how non-profits spent $60 million in funds from BP to promote tourism and the seafood industry.
Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Steven Moret makes the case for eliminating state income taxes in a letter to the Advocate.
The vote to approve a 20-year extension of the Crescent City Connection tolls in New Orleans was upheld following a partial recount of nearly 4,000 paper ballots in Orleans Parish. But the issue is far from over. A trial is set for March 4-5 to determine whether there were irregularities in the referendum that failed in two of the three parishes deciding the issue.
167 – The percent increase in the cost of Louisiana tax exemptions between 2001 and 2011 (Source: LBP)
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
As golfer Phil Mickelson contemplates leaving California due to income taxes, The New York Times recently took a detailed look at the “tax-flight” phenomenon and concluded that it’s largely a myth. “It turns out that a large majority of people move for far more compelling reasons, like jobs, the cost of housing, family ties or a warmer climate,” the Times reports. “At least three recent academic studies have demonstrated that the number of people who move for tax reasons is negligible, even among the wealthy.” Rather than moving because of tax rates, the very affluent tend to be more drawn to areas with successful businesses and high-paying jobs, such as Silicon Valley and Manhattan, than they are to locations with lower taxes.
Louisiana could generate up to $85 million in one-time cash by refinancing $823 million in tobacco-settlement bonds at lower interest rates. If approved by the Legislature, the refinancing could be used to plug part of the $1.3 billion budget shortfall. But that could raise hackles among some conservatives, who object to filling holes in the budget with one-time dollars.
The cost of providing pensions for municipal police officers has skyrocketed, from 13.75 percent of payroll in 2007 to 31 percent last year, thanks largely to a catastrophically stupid decision by the Municipal Police Retirement System to invest in a pair of north Louisiana golf courses. The pension system has been trying to sell the money-losing courses since 2007, but so far hasn’t found a taker. The plan lost $860,000 in the last fiscal year, which means cities have to pump more tax revenue into the pension fund instead of using that money for public safety.
Louisiana taxpayers have paid at least $226,500 since 2008 for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s numerous out-of-state trips for political purposes, according to an Associated Press review of the expense statements filed by the Louisiana State Police.. The total cost includes an $18,000 tab for the times the governor crisscrossed the country stumping for Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful White House bid. The governor was out of town at least one day of every four last year, mostly campaigning and raising money for Republican candidates.
The proposed Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill pending before Congress that would require out-of-state retailers to begin collecting sales taxes, could generate $440 million in new revenues for Louisiana in 2012. While the bill faces strong opposition from anti-tax advocates and large online retailers, Sen. Mary Landrieu supports the measure because it would help level the playing field between brick-and-mortar retailers and online businesses. Gov. Bobby Jindal plans to call for a uniform sales-tax collection system as part of his upcoming tax-shift proposal, which would position Louisiana to take advantage of the potential change in federal law.
$226,500 – The amount Louisiana taxpayers paid to finance Gov. Jindal’s security detail for his out-of-state trips since 2008. (Source: The Associated Press)
Monday, February 18, 2013
A lengthy profile in Politico looks at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s push for tax reform and rejection of the Medicaid expansion and asks if he’s using Louisiana “as a testing ground for policies that play well with national conservatives.” The magazine notes that Jindal pursued mostly risk-averse policies during his first term, but has raised his national profile lately by promoting an ambitious school-voucher plan and proposing to scrap the state income tax.
The governor will release his 2013-14 budget blueprint on Friday, which will contain his recommendations for closing a $1.3 billion budget gap. “The presentation of the executive budget will show Jindal’s cards on what he recommends to cut, what facilities he wants to privatize or close and just how much patchwork financing he suggests to piece it all together,” writes Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press. Funding for health-care and higher education remain the most vulnerable to cuts.
The state Department of Revenue is pushing back against a report that notes the governor’s tax shift proposal is similar to plans pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Tim Barfield, the governor’s point man for his tax proposal, says ALEC has had no involvement in crafting the tax-shift proposal, which is still under development. But Gannett’s Mike Hasten notes that the Revenue Department cites work done by economist Art Laffer, for none other than ALEC, to support its theory that eliminating income taxes will grow the state economy.
Nola.com columnist James Gill added his voice to those who believe that the governor’s tax-shift proposal would be bad for Louisiana. Gill doubts that the governor can make up the $3 billion in lost income-tax revenue by raising the state sales tax by a mere 1.78 percentage points, as the administration has suggested. “Whatever they’re smoking in Baton Rouge needs to be taxed heavily enough to make them quit,” Gill writes, “They are hallucinating.”
New controversy has emerged over State Superintendent of Education John White’s plan to change the way Louisiana funds special education students. White’s proposal calls for launching a new system where state aid is based in part on a child’s disability. Under this scenario, children with autism could receive more support than children with speech impairments. Yet, critics believe the system will cause schools to improperly label students to attract more funds. The current system provides equal funding for all special education students, regardless of their disability.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is backing a package of bills aimed at changing juvenile justice programs in Louisiana. The set of proposals would help the state’s “Families in Need of Services” keep at-risk children from entering the juvenile justice system; strengthen the state’s Coordinated System of Care, a 2011 program that provides services to youth with behavioral problems and mental health issues; expand drug rehabilitation and educational services to adult and juvenile offenders; and allow for the conditional early release of non-violent first- and second-time drug offenders who complete a 90-day detox program.
29 – The percent of Louisiana’s special education students that graduate from high school (Source: The Advocate)
Friday, February 15, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal spoke to Louisiana reporters for the first time in months on Thursday, but failed to shed new light on his proposal to shift taxes from progressive income taxes to regressive sales taxes. While some details of the governor’s plan were leaked to The Advocate last week, the governor insisted his plan remains a work in progress. Jindal also continued to insist that Louisiana will reject the opportunity to provide health coverage to 400,000 low-income adults using federal cash, and said he is ignoring recent polls that show a steep decline in his approval ratings.
The governor’s tax plan may not be finalized, but that hasn’t stopped Jindal from secretly pitching the idea to members of the Republican Party and in private meetings with state legislators, as The Lens reports. Some say the lack of details may be because his team has not figured out how they will replace the $3 billion lost per year by eliminating personal income and corporate taxes.
LBP analyst David Gray was officially appointed to a Food Policy Commission by Baton Rouge’s Mayor-President and a group of faith-based organizations called Together Baton Rouge. The 13-member commission is charged with finding a solution to the problem of “food deserts” in East Baton Rouge Parish, which are defined as areas with high poverty and poor access to supermarkets and large grocery stores. You can read more about the commission at The Advocate and Nola.com.
A report in The Washington Post challenges Gov. Bobby Jindal’s claim that the charter school movement in New Orleans has reduced the number of children attending failing schools from 77 percent to 29 percent. The Post cites figures from Research on Reform, a New Orleans-based non-profit, showing that 52 percent of children in the Recovery School District-New Orleans currently attend failing schools.
The Center on Economic Policy Research reports that raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, as President Barack Obama has proposed, will not lift families above the poverty line. Instead, a family of four with net income of $24,501 would fall short of the poverty line by nearly $2,700. But a minimum wage hike also will not lead to mass layoffs, as some conservatives have argued. Louisiana is one of five states with no state minimum wage law.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities lays out four threats to state finances that could threaten their future prosperity. Some states, like Louisiana, haven’t fully recovered from the most recent recession, don’t have tax systems that can raise adequate revenue in a 21st century economy, and may receive less future funding from the federal government. The report concludes that eliminating or reducing income would seriously undermine state revenues, with potentially dramatic consequences for public services.
$7.25 – The minimum wage in Louisiana (Source: US Department of Labor)
Thursday, February 14, 2013
The expansion of Medicaid would be good news for Louisiana’s “Bayou Health” initiative, which would gain thousands of new enrollees if the health-insurance program for the poor would grow to cover 400,000 low-income adults starting next January. In a letter to The Advocate, LBP policy analyst Steve Spires explains that much of the “flexibility” that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is seeking as a condition of accepting the expansion – and the $15.8 billion in federal support that comes with it – already exists under current law.
After President Barack Obama proposed universal pre-kindergarten instruction for 4-year-olds, Gail Collins of the New York Times takes a fascinating look back at the history of this issue at the federal level. Turns out it was first championed by then-Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota, and a bill that would have made preschool education available to every American family made it as far as President Nixon’s desk before being vetoed.
A majority of Louisiana voters disapprove Gov. Bobby Jindal’s performance, according to a new poll by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling. The survey shows that only 37 percent of Louisianans approve of Jindal’s job performance, while 57 percent disapprove. That’s down from a 58 percent approval for the governor in PPP’s last poll of Louisiana in August 2010. According to PPP, “the decline in Jindal’s popularity cuts across party lines. Where he was at 81/13 with Republicans in August 2010, now it’s 59/35. Where he was at 67/22 with independents back then, now he’s at 41/54. And what was a higher than normal amount of crossover support from Democrats at 33/58 is now 15/78.”
The poll comes less than one week after a poll of 600 voters commissioned by the Louisiana State Medical Society also showed that the governor’s approval ratings dropped below 50 percent for the first time during his tenure.
A new report that takes a critical look at the American Legislative Exchange Council and its tax policies was covered by Nola.com and The Advocate. The report notes that ALEC’s economic agenda, which includes policies to eliminate income taxes, would weaken state economies, harm working families and put the interests of corporations and the most affluent households before the common good.
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is moving forward with issuing school vouchers – which allow students attend private and parochial schools at taxpayers’ expense – despite two major concerns with the voucher program. First, a judge ruled that the state unconstitutionally poached money for public schools to pay for the voucher program. Without a legal funding source, some fear that schools will initially enroll students only to turn them away later. Second, the key measure for determining whether schools may take more voucher students won’t be ready until May even though the voucher lottery will take place in April.
Bruce Greenstein, head of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, was appointed to a national long-term care commission this week. The 15-member bipartisan commission has six months to study long-term care and write a report on proposed changes, including proposing reforms to the nation’s programs for providing care to the elderly and disabled. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell appointed Greenstein as one of the Republican appointees to the commission, which was created as part of the legislation passed during the “fiscal cliff” budget negotiations.
LSU is continuing to reject public records requests for the names and qualifications of candidates in the running to become the university’s next president, according to The Advocate. Despite a section of Louisiana law requiring that “each applicant for public position of authority” be made “available for public inspection,” LSU System attorney Shelby McKenzie told the newspaper that none of the requested information is subject to state public records laws because none of those candidates submitted written applications directly to LSU.
57 – The percent of Louisianans that disapprove of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s performance (Source: Public Policy Polling)
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
The State of the Union Address offered new initiatives that can significantly impact Louisiana’s minimum wage earners, the oil and gas industry and the state’s structurally deficient bridges, according to Nola.com. President Barack Obama proposed a “Fix-it-First Program” that would direct more resources to repair structurally deficient bridges across the nation. Nearly 13 percent of Louisiana’s bridges fall within this category. The president also targeted oil and gas producers for higher taxes, a move that received criticism from several Louisiana officials. Finally, the president wants to increase minimum wages from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour – a move that will raise the income of Louisiana working families and help lift many out of poverty.
You can read the State of the Union transcript or watch the video by clicking here.
LBP analyst David Gray writes that Louisiana policymakers should heed the warning of a new report by the Tax Foundation, which notes that high state sales taxes can lead to reduced consumer spending and fewer businesses. Louisiana currently has the third highest combined state and local sales tax rate in the nation, trailing only Tennessee and Arizona. If Louisiana raises its state sales tax to 5.78 percent, as the governor is advocating, Pelican State consumers would pay the nation’s highest overall sales taxes on everything from basics like clothes and appliances to restaurant meals and concert tickets.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a new report that examines the American Legislative Exchange Council’s national economic policy agenda. ALEC is the national network of conservative state legislators, corporate lobbyists and anti-government activists that recently faced intense scrutiny for its promotion of strict voter identification laws and the controversial “stand your ground” gun policy. The report notes that ALEC’s economic agenda, which includes policies to eliminate income taxes, would weaken state economies, harm working families and put the interests of corporations and the most affluent households before the common good.
Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White is calling for changes that will revamp the way the state finances special education. The announcement follows new federal figures showing that special education students in Louisiana have the nation’s second-lowest public high school graduation rate. White’s plan would change the way Louisiana allocates special education dollars to local school districts, which currently receive support based on the number of students with that classification. Under White’s plan, state aid would be allocated based on three factors — the type of disability, what setting is used to educate the student and how the student fares in the classroom.
John Maginnis says Gov. Bobby Jindal’s approval ratings are falling because “he is trying to get some hard and controversial things done, and is taking heat for it.” Maginnis singles out the governor’s controversial changes to Louisiana’s health care system while rejecting Medicaid expansion, and says Jindal needs to lay out his reasoning and analysis “to show that he knows what he is doing.” A poll commissioned by the Louisiana State Medical Society found that the public supports Medicaid expansion by a 51-43 margin.
49 – Louisiana’s national ranking for public education student graduation rate (Source: The Advocate)
Friday, February 8, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s job approval ratings dropped below 50 percent for the first time in his political career, according to a poll of 600 voters commissioned by the Louisiana State Medical Society and first reported by John Maginnis. The survey shows that only 46 percent of Louisianans approve of Jindal’s job performance, while 48 percent disapprove. The same survey showed 51 percent of the public wants Louisiana to participate in federal Medicaid expansion, while 43 percent do not.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s appointees to the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission are considering suing the governor for raiding the Artificial Reef Development Fund, which allows oil companies to convert old rigs into reefs that support fisheries. Gov. Jindal and the Legislature have taken $45 million from the fund since 2010 to cover general fund shortfalls and pay Medicaid expenses, leaving it with only $13 million to support its mission. Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, notes that the fund was set aside to help save the coast, and that any other use of the fund violates state law.
The LSU hospital system is taking away funding for surgery for uninsured women, causing another health-care access snafu as the system closes the Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge and transitions patients to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. “My great fear is women who need what they call ‘elective’ surgery, not getting it in a timely manner and some will die,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. State officials are seeking explanations for LSU’s decision to eliminate the funding.
Louisiana’s Department of Revenue has tapped accounting giant Ernst & Young to crunch the numbers on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed tax-shift plan. The state did not solicit public bids on the project, nor did they release many details on what the contract entails. Ernst & Young estimates the total cost of the contract to be between $150,000 and $180,000.
WWL-TV reporter Brendan McCarthy released a harrowing investigation into the way Filipinos and other immigrant workers are exploited by oil and gas companies in Louisiana. The report commenced after three Filipino men were killed and three others critically injured in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. In his report, McCarthy notes that companies like Grand Isle Shipyard lure immigrants with promises of high salaries. Instead, they receive $3.75 per hour and can work up to 400 hours per month. You can read and watch McCarthy’s segment here.
51 – The percent of Louisianans who support state participation in federal Medicaid expansion (Source: Louisiana Politics)
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to eliminate income taxes and raise sales taxes will include levying state sales taxes on more products and services. The administration says broadening the tax base is necessary to help reduce an overall sales tax increase that is necessary to cover $3 billion in lost revenue from eliminating income taxes. Items that may be included in the base broadening include: educational materials bought for school classrooms, the Bibles and songbooks bought by churches, specialty beads sold to Mardi Gras krewes, museum admissions, bait and feed used to harvest crawfish and breastfeeding equipment.
The governor and his lieutenants are digging in their heels on their rejection of $15.8 billion in federal support for Medicaid expansion that would provide health insurance to 400,000 Louisianans. After receiving a petition signed by over 50 organizations and 100 individuals, Jindal told NOLA.com that federal guidelines “are not yet final, do not go far enough and fail to address key issues.” Jindal’s intransigence comes as several other GOP governors have done an about-face and decided to accept the expansion and the federal dollars that come along with it.
You can read and sign the petition supporting Medicaid expansion by clicking here.
Patients have been flooding the emergency room of a mid-city hospital in Baton Rouge now that Earl K. Long Medical Center – the LSU-run charity hospital that serves the northern part of the parish – is preparing to shut down.
Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, wrote an open letter to the Louisiana Women’s Caucus urging mentors, parents and teachers to encourage young women leaders to participate in state politics. St. Germain also wants to see young women take advantage of the state’s Women’s Caucus scholarship and leadership programs, which has a Friday deadline. According to the National Council of State Legislators, Louisiana ranks last in female participation in state government.
The Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are moving forward with plans to overhaul pre-kindergarten classes in Louisiana. The move stems from the broad education reform packet that passed in record time during the 2012 legislative session. The overhaul intends to increase the quality and availability of pre-kindergarten programs, and increase the percentage of children entering kindergarten ready to learn from 54 percent to 70 percent.
$2,860 – The maximum income a family of three can earn to qualify for Medicaid in Louisiana under the current law. (Source: Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
More than 50 organizations sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Bobby Jindal urging him to accept the federal Medicaid expansion. The letter notes that Medicaid expansion would extend health coverage to 400,000 low-income Louisianans and bring in $15.8 billion in federal dollars over a decade. The signees included organizations like AARP, the Advocacy Center, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (Mid South Division), and the National Association of Social Workers, Louisiana Chapter.
Fifty-four organizations and 158 individuals signed the letter as of Wednesday morning. You can read and sign the letter here.
Meanwhile, the NOLA.com editorial board said accepting the Medicaid expansion is a critical part of maintaining the network of primary-care clinics that sprung up in New Orleans after Katrina. The clinics serve an estimated 57,000 people, but are being financed with a federal waiver that expires at the end of this year. As the editorial board points out, accepting the federal Medicaid expansion would provide funds for not only this program, but also for the new teaching hospital being built in downtown New Orleans to replace Charity Hospital.
The Louisiana Department of Education’s new website no longer contains information about “enrollment, demographics, teacher experience/education levels, pay, charter school budgets, district revenues, expenditures and college enrollment,” The Advocate reports. The omission sparked widespread criticism that included groups that normally support the governor’s education agenda, such as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University.
Rep. Dee Richard and Sen. Rick Gallot pre-filed a bill Tuesday for the upcoming 2013 Regular Session that would make all records of the governor’s office subject to public records laws and set a 10 year limit for privileged communications. You can read the entire text of the bill here.
57,000 – The number of residents in the greater New Orleans area that receive primary care through health clinics created to serve uninsured residents in greater New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. (Source: NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune)
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the latest Republican to accept the expansion of Medicaid in his state, pulling a 180-degree turn on fellow conservatives. Kasich’s decision was largely motivated by local health care and business leaders, who say the decision will save Ohio money in the long run and help community hospitals remain open. The impact of Kasich’s decision are significant because he represents House Speaker John Boehner’s state, is one of the most aggressive critics of federal spending, and won the “Legislative Entrepreneur Award” from the tea-party-affiliated FreedomWorks.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is considering a plan to raise tobacco taxes as part of his larger tax reform proposal. The move will contradict his strong opposition to a 4-cent cigarette tax renewal two years ago. Yesterday, the Advocate’s editorial board publically announced their support for higher taxes on cigarette purchases.
The Federal Communications Commission says it wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation that will allow consumers to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cell phone bills every month. The announcement sparked lobbying efforts from both the wireless industry (which opposes the idea) and tech giants like Google and Microsoft (who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovation).
The Department of Children and Family Services announced that new policies are helping the agency collect unpaid child support. In addition to wage garnishments, DCSF is intercepting tax refunds, BP oil leak settlements and casino winnings from individuals who are past due on their child support. DCFS intercepted $43.7 million in state and federal tax refunds in 2012, $8.4 million from settlements tied to the 2010 BP oil leak and nearly $850,000 since September 2011 from casino winnings.
17.5% – Percent of Louisiana’s population with no health insurance coverage. (Source: American Community Survey)
Monday, February 4, 2013
Workers are quitting the state public hospital system in droves, and that has LSU hospitals chief Dr. Frank Opelka worried about the nascent public-private partnerships that are supposed to take over management of the facilities. Opelka told the LSU Board of Supervisors that the workforce drop may harm the transition from public to private management since contracted companies need LSU’s current employees to provide care.
Ramifications from higher education budget cuts are negatively impacting Louisiana’s public universities in multiple ways. For example, schools are producing less research, relying more heavily on graduate students to teach, having more difficulty on recruiting and retaining professors, and eliminating or stunting the growth of programs.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is disputing figures from the Board of Regents that say higher education has been cut by $625 million since 2008. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte says the administration released a “sort-of rebuttal” suggesting the real cut is only $220 million after you count higher tuition. Meanwhile, an Illinois State University survey that tracks higher education spending across the country says Louisiana has cut state support by 31 percent since 2008 – the third-highest drop in the country behind Arizona and New Hampshire.
The Advocate’s editorial board is advocating for higher stales taxes on cigarette purchases. “Whatever the source of the idea, there are solid potential benefits for the state in a higher tax on the leading source of lung cancer. While it is not a growth tax, as smoking is going down, the long-term costs of addiction and illness are substantial, when one includes treatment for the many health problems associated with smoking.”
This week’s Jackson Square taping of “The Talk” could net the CBS show more than $1 million in state taxpayer dollars, according to NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. Producers are seeking up to $3.5 million in expenses eligible for the state’s Motion Picture Production tax credit from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. A number of other entertainment programs that were shot in Louisiana this week could also qualify for incentives.
“American Winter,” a new documentary about poverty in America that premieres March 18 on HBO, tracks eight families that are struggling to cope during the Great Recession. A trailer can be seen by clicking here.
$0.36 – Louisiana’s cigarette tax, which is the third lowest in the country (Source: American Lung Association).
Friday, February 1, 2013
Louisiana is four months away from running out of money in its capital outlay fund, which supports projects like college building repairs, economic development projects and state-funded road work. While the state can borrow money to pay for construction projects, Louisiana is $22 million from hitting a constitutionally imposed $605 million debt ceiling. Among the options available to lawmakers in the upcoming regular session is to exclude certain types of debt from the cap calculation, changing the limit or voting to breach the ceiling.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, looks over the proposals from the Budget Reform Coalition and thinks they will be tough to pass through the Legislature without support from the governor. Bean notes that most of the $26 billion annual budget is off-limits when mid-year cuts are necessary, which leaves programs for the poor, mentally ill, and college students vulnerable when revenues don’t materialize as expected. Although the Budget Reform Coalition aims to end the use of one-time money to fund current expenses and open up more parts of the budget to cuts, Beam thinks the governor and Senate “won’t go along with any drastic budget changes that might weaken their power.”
Although the details of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed tax shift are still being worked out behind the scenes, the chief economist of the Legislative Fiscal Office weighed in this week with a detailed analysis that suggests the net result of swapping income taxes for higher consumption taxes would be to make the system more tilted against the poor. “Along more general lines, the current personal income tax is a progressive tax and the current sales tax is a regressive tax,” writes Greg Albrecht, who will play a key role in determining how the tax shift will affect the state budget. “The two taxes combine to make the distribution of household taxation in LA essentially proportional. Elimination of the income tax will leave a tax system that is regressive with respect to households.”
A new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report concludes that Louisiana should decouple itself from a federal tax break known as the “domestic production deduction.” The federal law allows companies to claim a tax deduction based on profits from “qualified production activities,” which includes activities like food production, filmmaking, and utilities. Because Louisiana’s tax code is tied to the federal code, the state lost $15 million in potential tax revenue – even through the deduction never received scrutiny or a vote from the state Legislature.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research updated their union membership maps following the release of new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Louisiana had one of the largest percent increases in all union members between 2011 and 2012. The majority of that growth occurred in the public sector, where Louisiana led the nation by almost doubling its public sector union membership. The Pelican State experienced moderate increases in private sector union membership.
93 percent – The percentage increase in Louisiana’s public sector union growth between 2011 and 2012 (Source: CEPR)