The Daily Dime: July 2013

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 david@labudget.org.

Monday, July 29, 2013
AP: Economic security on the decline
A new exclusive by the Associated Press shows the risk of economic insecurity in America grows with age. Two-thirds of Americans reaching age 60 experienced unemployment in their lives, more than half experienced poverty, and nearly half relied on government welfare. The AP says this trend is caused by “an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor and loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs….” The data also concludes racial disparities shown in economic measures are narrowing substantially due to increasing hardships among whites.

The AP’s Melinda Deslatte also noted a correlation between Louisiana’s decreasing employee rolls and the state’s increasing unemployment numbers. “Civil service figures showed more than 3,800 state employees were laid off in the last budget year, more than the four prior years combined. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent, in the sixth straight month of growing joblessness in the state,” she writes. Representatives from the Jindal administration said the two numbers are not linked, since many of the employees laid off by the state found jobs in the private sector, and that other economic indicators show the Louisiana economy is strong. But Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, disagreed with that assessment, saying it is “unrealistic” to claim government layoffs don’t affect unemployment.

Robert Mann: LA is ignoring poverty that limits children’s success in school
Nola.com columnist Robert Mann says state education officials should focus more attention on child poverty if they want to improve student’s academic performance. Mann writes, “If [State Education Superintendent John] White and other ‘reformers’ really want to educate children, they’ll stop heaping all the blame on teachers and schools and address what’s really plaguing ‘failing’ schools and their students — poverty.” Mann notes poverty isn’t the silver bullet solution, but does cite several correlations that strongly link poverty to poor academic performance. Approximately 26 percent of Louisiana children live in poverty.

Boggs was a trailblazer and champion for gender equality
Former U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs, D-New Orleans, passed away at her Maryland home Saturday. She was 97. Boggs was the first woman from Louisiana to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, a position she leveraged to advocate for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, which ensured borrowing and business lending was opened to women. She was also a major supporter of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Fair Housing Act of 1968. Boggs served nine terms in Congress, and former President Bill Clinton appointed her U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 1997 until 2001.

Cost-benefits analysis improves budget choices and taxpayer results
A new study by the PEW Charitable Trusts finds cost-benefit analyses are helping states make better investments of public dollars by identifying programs and policies that deliver high returns. The tool is especially useful in states with budget woes, affording a mechanism to strategically make spending choices rather than instituting across-the-board cuts that affect effective and ineffective programs alike. Washington leads the nation with 23 cost-benefit analyses performed between 2008 and 2011. Louisiana used cost-benefit analyses to inform spending decisions only three times in that same time period.

Number of the Day26 – The percent of Louisiana children who live in poverty. (Source: National Center for Children in Poverty)

 

Friday, July 26, 2013
Conservative think tank says sales tax holidays are poor tax policy
As Louisiana retailers try to lure shoppers with promises of sales-tax savings, a new report by the conservative Tax Foundation describes sales-tax holidays as “political gimmicks” that have no part in sound tax policy. The report says that sales tax holidays do not promote economic growth, create complexities for tax code compliance, favor some industries over others and do not provide financial relief for the poor. Louisiana has three tax holidays: an annual sales tax holiday, a Second Amendment sales tax holiday and a hurricane preparedness sales tax holiday. The Tax Foundation says lawmakers should strive for more genuine tax reform instead of creating more tax holidays for “photo-ops as ‘friends of the taxpayer.’”

One way for Louisiana lawmakers to help working families keep money in their pockets is doubling the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which rewards work and protects children by raising the incomes of low- to moderate-income working families. This credit is very beneficial for children, as studies have shown that higher family incomes lead to stronger school performance and improved lifetime earnings. A new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also found that the EITC helps 33,000 Louisiana military families have extra money for basic necessities such as car repairs, medical bills or school supplies. Louisiana’s state EITC is currently the smallest in the nation.

Halliburton Energy Services pleads guilty to destroying BP oil spill evidence
Halliburton Energy Services Inc. agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. According to a report by Nola.com, the energy giant signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department admitting its criminal conduct. The plea agreement will require Halliburton to pay a $200,000 fine, to be subject to three years of probation and to continue its cooperation in the government’s ongoing criminal investigation.

Parole and probation officers suing state for retirement funds
Louisiana’s adult parole and probation officers are suing the Jindal administration for sweeping $3.7 million out of their retirement fund, according to the Advocate. The officers allege House Bill 822, approved as part of a 2012 budget compromise, unconstitutionally diverted retirement dollars for use in the state general fund. “The citizens of Louisiana should not be misled into believing that fees paid into a certain fund are for a dedicated and specific purpose when in fact those statutorily dedicated fees are being converted into general fund revenue dollars,” the suit says.

Business and industry call BP claims “jackpot justice”
Leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry wrote a letter in Nola.com alleging that plaintiffs lawyers are seeking to get rich by recruiting businesses to make claims against BP for the oil spill disaster even if the spill didn’t harm the businesses. Labeling these supposed actions as “jackpot justice,” the business leaders write, “The state has made significant strides in improving its legal climate over the years. Louisianans shouldn’t let an unscrupulous tort bar turn back the clock.” The remarks come in the wake of BP’s ongoing attempts to halt claims payouts due to “fraud, corruption and malfeasance.”

Number of the Day36 – The percent of the wetland loss in southeastern Louisiana between 1932 and 1990 that resulted from the direct and indirect effects of actions taken by the oil and gas industry (Source: U.S. Geological Survey and the Gas Research Institute via Nola.com)

 

Thursday, July 25, 2013
Former Jindal executive council receives $1.1 million in state contracts
A law firm run by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former executive counsel – who specializes in losing high-profile cases on the administration’s behalf – received more than $1.1 million in no-bid contract work from state government, the Associated Press’ Melinda Deslatte reports. The administration hired The Faircloth Law Group, headed by Jimmy Faircloth, to handle several high profile cases, including the state’s ongoing suit against BP and the defense of the governor’s controversial school voucher plan. Faircloth told the AP that he doesn’t think his ties to the governor helped him drum up business, though the firm did virtually no work for the state prior to Jindal taking office.

Mixed reactions to wetland erosion lawsuit
Gov. Jindal is demanding the East Bank levee authority to drop a lawsuit filed Wednesday against nearly 100 oil, gas and pipeline companies. The suit claims the companies are responsible for restoring damaged wetlands and paying damages for the effects of the lost wetlands on levees. Jindal said the levee authority overstepped its authority by hiring lawyers without the governor’s approval, and that the lawsuit “jeopardizes and undermines our ability to implement the Master Plan.”

But the vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East says the oil and gas industry is legally obligated to help fix the coast. John Barry wrote a letter to the Advocate saying the industry is responsible to pay for erosion for three reasons: state permits allowing companies to work in the wetlands mandate they repair environmental damages, federal law prohibits activities which “impairs the effectiveness of a levee” and the state’s civil law code prohibits one person from increasing the flow of water on someone else.

The lawsuit drew mixed reactions from the Louisiana Congressional Delegation. Sen. Mary Landrieu did not take an official position on the lawsuit, but did say that she will continue pushing the Obama administration for increased federal revenue sharing of royalty payments for offshore drilling. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, had the most negative response, saying the state “cannot have trial lawyers” taking away a good deal of the companies’ revenue.

Louisiana cuts to higher education more than any other state
Louisiana tops the list of states that cut funding for higher education, according to a report from The American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American Press wrote an analysis of the report, saying that while most states, including Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas, are increasing state funding for colleges and universities, Louisiana is still facing shortfalls that necessitate huge cuts. “Louisiana definitely needs to rethink its priorities. Two immediate goals should be to provide more state support for higher education and reform its TOPS scholarship program to ensure that those funds are getting to students with the best chance of graduating. Their future and the state’s hang in the balance,” Beam writes.

Sen. Landrieu defends Affordable Care Act
Sen. Landrieu defended challenges against the Affordable Care Act Wednesday at a meeting with the Senate Small Business Committee. “There are some glitches that we need to fix,” Landrieu said, “[but] we will not go back to the time when a firm loses coverage because one child is born with Down Syndrome.” Landrieu said the law should be tweaked to protect businesses that are too large for federal subsidizes but too small to benefit from insurance company’s large group plans. But Landrieu said the Affordable Care Act produces more pros than cons for businesses, including tax credits that small businesses are already utilizing to provide coverage for their workers.

Number of the Day$1.1 million – The vale of no-bid contract legal work awarded to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former executive counsel since he left the Jindal administration. (Source: The Advocate)

 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Jindal writes another op-ed; discusses Medicaid expansion
Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote another op-ed this week — this time attempting to explain his decision to reject basic health care coverage for 400,000 Louisianans. Despite supporting a similar version of federal Medicaid expansion in 2008, the governor said Obamacare would cost the state too much money and encourage too many people to leave their private insurers. Jindal did not to mention that a bipartisan group of state lawmakers attempted to pass a version of Medicaid expansion that would have allowed residents to use federal funds to purchase private insurance — a policy Jindal opposed. Studies have also shown that accepting the federal Medicaid expansion would help the state budget in several ways, including saving the state $368 million in the first decade, providing funding for the LSU private-partnership deals, and offering the state a better “federal match” than Louisiana currently receives.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate could surpass national rate soon
Louisiana’s unemployment rate has been spiking upward in recent months – from 5.6 percent in December to 7 percent in June – and the Lens reports that it may soon exceed the national rate for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Greg Albrecht, the chief economist for the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office, attributes the growing unemployment rate to large cuts in government positions and the lack of available private sector jobs. Albrecht also points out that more people have decided to enter the labor market, but they haven’t found work. Factors outside the governor’s control – including national and international trends, hurricanes and Louisiana’s continued dependence on the oil and gas industry – also play a role in determining the state’s unemployment rate.

LSU president supports faculty pay raises and “balanced tuition”
Newly installed LSU System President King Alexander said Tuesday that the state’s flagship institution must find a way to raise faculty salaries if the university is going to become a nationally competitive research institution, according to the Advocate. Alexander estimated it would cost at least $40 million to replace the 220 faculty members who have left the university since 2008, taking their grants for research projects with them.

The Baton Rouge Business Report shed a little light on how Alexander intends to raise money for teacher pay – by increasing students’ tuition and fees. Alexander noted that The University of Alabama was able to raise pay with tuition dollars, and said LSU must adopt a “balance between where we should fall in tuition and state appropriations.” With the Jindal administration reducingstate funding for higher education to its lowest levels since the 1950s and no sign of increased state funding in the future, some observers fear that the scales will tilt more heavily towards tuition increases.

State begins tax amnesty program in September
State officials must raise $200 million through a new two-week-long tax amnesty program to fill gaps in the current state budget. As Nola.com reported Tuesday, the tax amnesty program, called “Fresh Start,” is scheduled to begin on Sept. 22 and run until Nov. 22. The program gives delinquent taxpayers an opportunity to pay what they owe without incurring extra fees. The state’s Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that 300,000 delinquent taxpayers qualify for the program, owing a collective $700 million in back taxes. Only 30,000 qualifiers are expected to participate in the amnesty program, mostly businesses.

State agency suing energy companies
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East plans to file suit against dozens of energy companies in civil district court in New Orleans Wednesday. According to the New York Times, the suit “argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage caused by cutting a network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. The suit alleges that the network functioned ‘as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,’ killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water to intrude into freshwater areas.” The agency says the wetlands are an important buffer for Louisiana during hurricanes and other storms.

Number of the Day$700 million – The amount of back taxes owed to the State of Louisiana (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office via Nola.com)

 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
LSU needs $200 million to become competitive
Louisiana’s flagship university needs at least $200 million in cash to become nationally competitive, according to members of LSU’s Transition Advisory. The team was assembled to make recommendations on how to consolidate LSU’s disparate institutions under the main campus umbrella in Baton Rouge, and its work comes after public support for higher education has been slashed by more than $600 million since 2008. Consultant Christel Slaughter, who is leading the panel, told The Advocate that the money is needed to replace faculty that’s been lost in the downturn, and to attract top-level researchers who can bring in federal grants. LSU System President King Alexander says raising that level of funds would be very difficult in the state’s current environment. Those concerns echo recent remarks by Higher Education Commissioner Jim Purcell, who has said state support for higher education is at its lowest level since the 1950s.

Western heat wave threatens food production
From the New York Times editorial page comes a warning that the excessive heat and drought that’s plagued much of the American West could have profound implications on the nation’s food supply. An estimated 40 percent of the country’s agricultural income comes from Western states, which produce much of the beef, beans, potatoes, citrus fruit, onions and other dietary staples. As temperatures rise and the decade-long Western drought shows no signs of ebbing, consumers can expect higher food prices and taxpayers can expect to fork over more disaster payments to farmers. But the author lays out several potential long-term fixes that should be part of the farm bill that is currently stalled on Capitol Hill: “Climate adaptation is the game every food producer and eater must now play. A little investment coming too late will not help us adapt in time to this new reality.”

Internet purchases should not continue to be exempt
Metairie resident Jim Esneault has a simple answer for public officials who say we don’t have enough money to fund critical programs: enforce the state sales tax on internet purchases. In a letter to Nola.com explaining why internet purchases should not be exempt from sales tax collection, Esneault says local consumers easily avoid the state’s use tax because there is no enforcement of the law. “So, to all of our political leaders who complain that there is not enough money to fund their programs, I say either enforce the use tax or support the Marketplace Fairness Act. Refusing to do either is unfair, irresponsible and simply self-serving,” he writes. According to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Louisiana would receive an extra $5.5 million by extending sales taxes to the purchase of five major digital goods: electric books, online music, mobile apps, online video and online games.

Baton Rouge school system to audit retirees’ medical benefits
The East Baton Rouge Parish School System is hiring a firm to audit its health insurance program to identify employees who are eligible to use Medicare as their primary insurance, but instead are having their main medical bills paid for through the school system. Another audit is focusing on how accurately Blue Cross Blue Shield has been in processing medical claims. Two audits conducted over the past year have led to 905 spouses and children being dropped from school employees’ medical benefits, saving the state an estimated $3,000 per dependent.

Number of the Day$5.5 million – The amount of new revenue Louisiana would receive if the state extended Internet sales taxes to the online purchase of five major digital goods: electronic books, online music, mobile apps, online video and online games. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

 

Monday, July 22, 2013
Appeals court rejects LSU’s plea to hide names of president finalists
A state appeals court has rejected LSU’s attempt to hide the names of the 35 candidates considered for the job of university system president. The ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge reaffirms an earlier district court, and means the case could be headed to the state Supreme Court. NOLA.com and The Advocate filed a joint lawsuit against LSU, claiming that the finalists’ names were in the public interest and arguing that university officials intentionally tried to circumvent the state’s public records law.

In climbing the income ladder, location matters
A new study by Harvard economists provides powerful evidence that location plays a major role in determining economic mobility. Cities in states across the Southeast and industrial Midwest had lower rates of mobility than those in the Northeast, Great Plains and West. The researchers concluded that four broad factors increase mobility: the size and dispersion of the middle class, the number of two-parent households, the quality of elementary and high schools and the amount of civic engagement.

LABI: Lax tax oversight hurts everyone
When parish property tax assessors don’t do their jobs properly, or give sweetheart deals to favored constituents, the result is higher taxes for everyone else. That’s the conclusion of Dan Juneau, the head of the state’s largest business lobby, who said a recent audit of the Tax Commission suggests Gov. Kathleen Blanco was much more diligent about assessor oversight than Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was elected with strong support from the assessors. “Parish assessors are elected, not appointed,” Juneau writes. “There have been past instances documented in the media of favoritism being bestowed on some property owners via low-balled assessments. When one property owner gets a sweetheart assessment, other taxpayers have to take up that slack by seeing their millages increase and, consequently, their property taxes go up. It usually isn’t the guy driving the beer truck who is the recipient of such largesse.”

Health insurance increases offset by federal subsidies, grandfathering
The president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana reached a conclusion similar to that of LBP’s Steve Spires in a Nola.com op-ed. While the Affordable Care Act is likely to increase the cost of health coverage, Mike Reitz writes that many people won’t notice the change: “In some cases, rate increases might be offset somewhat by government subsidies that will be available to individuals in certain income brackets. Some small businesses also are eligible for tax credits from the IRS to offset health insurance costs. And finally, those employers who were able to grandfather their plans should not be heavily impacted by the ACA — for the moment.”

Robert Mann: Federal government shouldn’t abandon college students
LSU professor Robert Mann uses his Nola.com column to argue for an expansion of federal aid to college students and demand reforms from college administrators. “It should be a very simple proposition,” Mann writes, “Every young person who wants it deserves a shot at a decent, affordable college education.” Mann points out that federal support for college students has dissolved into a partisan contest, ultimately leading to an increase in new student loan rates. “To compete in a world economy, we must do even more to help young people attend and graduate college. We guarantee children a debt-free elementary and secondary education; but then saddle them with crushing loans when they take the next step. That doesn’t make sense,” Mann writes.

Number of the Day72 – The percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) beneficiaries who are in families with children (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

Friday, July 19, 2013
Unemployment rate rises for 6th consecutive month
Louisiana’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent in June, making it the sixth straight month that the jobless rate has climbed. The data released Thursday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics could signal a pause in the state’s economic growth, the Associated Press reports. The BLS data also concludes that there are more unemployed people this year than at the same point in time last year – 146,800 unemployed residents in June 2013, compared to 139,400 unemployed residents in June 2012.

Meanwhile, The Advocate reports that approximately 3,800 rank-and-file state employees were laid off in the last fiscal year, meaning nearly 10 percent of the state’s “classified” workforce got pink slips. Gov. Bobby Jindal told the newspaper that the layoffs are part of his administration’s economic strategy. He also said many of the laid off workers were LSU hospital employees who were rehired by the private companies that were contracted to run the facilities. Union official Leonal Hardman, who represents state workers, said the private-sector jobs come with lower salaries and benefits than the employees were getting with the state. All told, more than 6,000 state workers have been laid off since 2008, and thousands more jobs have disappeared due to attrition.

Columnist: Who will set the reform agenda?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has 30 months left in office, but Advocate columnist Lanny Keller is already looking ahead to 2016 and wondering which groups will help “frame” the policy agenda for the next administration. Keller notes that the Legislature has been notoriously poor at setting priorities, and said the policy apparatus is more diverse this time as newer groups such as LBP and the conservative Pelican Institute for Public Policy join traditional organizations like the Public Affairs Research Council in supplying ideas to the new crop of candidates. “In this larger marketplace of ideas, the idea that a new consensus will form around state policies is probably significantly less likely than in the past. That doesn’t mean a new agenda won’t be forthcoming, because reform groups of left or right have a chance to hit a re-set butt on state policy because of the coming change of administrations in 2016.”

81,000 Louisianans received health insurance rebates under Obamacare
Approximately 81,000 Louisiana residents have received rebates under an Affordable Care Act provision that forces companies to spend at least 80 percent of every dollar that consumers pay in premiums on healthcare. Companies that do not meet this benchmark must rebate the difference to customers. The rebates to Louisiana customers average $50 per recipient. The data came to light while President Barack Obama pushed back against Republican lawmakers who voted for the 38th time to delay or repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act.

Large discrepancies in state’s business climate rankings
Pollina Corporate Real Estate ranked Louisiana 14th in its national business climate ranking, according to an announcement by the Jindal administration that touts the state’s ascent. Louisiana was ranked 40th when Jindal took office in 2008. The announcement comes a week after CNBC ranked Louisiana 43rd on its list of America’s Top States for Business 2013, citing the state’s poor education and infrastructure as major factors for the low ranking. Critics of business climate rankings say these types of discrepancies prove that business climate rankings are too subjective and offer very little evidence of a state’s actual ability to attract, retain and grow businesses.

Number of the Day81,000 – The number of Louisiana residents who received health insurance rebates under Obamacare as of July 18 (Source: Department of Health and Human Services via Nola.com)

 

Thursday, July 18, 2013
State leaders tout college readiness results
One-third of the state’s public high school seniors scored well enough on a college readiness exam to earn admission to a college in Louisiana without remediation requirements, according to state Superintendent of Education John White. “This is a moment of great opportunity and we should bask in it,” White told reporters. The remaining two-thirds failed to reach the minimum benchmark for college admissions without remediation classes. Louisiana’s statewide composite score continues to trail the national average, but White expects the score to improve over the next two years.

LA Swift deal near fruition
Several local groups say they are closing in on a deal to keep the LA Swift bus service in service for at least another year. The group is relying on several in-kind donations from various companies that qualify as a “local match” so the bus service can continue to be supported by a $2.3 million grant from the Federal Transportation Authority. The in-kind donations include everything from IT support to free parking spaces for the buses. Hundreds of riders use the LA Swift service daily to travel between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Michelle Obama visits Louisiana for Hispanic conference
First Lady Michelle Obama will be in Louisiana on Tuesday to deliver the keynote address at the National Council of La Raza conference. NCLR is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, boasting a network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations in 41 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The First Lady will speak about childhood obesity, a growing problem for Hispanic children.

Low-income voter registration numbers challenged
A national voter advocacy group is claiming responsibility for significantly increasing voter registration among low-income Louisianans. According to Project Vote, nearly 30,000 low-income Louisianans registered to vote at public assistance offices in 2011-2012 due to a successful legal challenge against the state for violating federal voting laws. But Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said discrepancies and duplications made the final tally of new registrants much lower than the figure reported by Project Vote.

Minimum wage is not what it used to be
The national minimum wage rate is far below its historical level due to increases in inflation, average wages and average productivity, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. CEPR says today’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage would be $9.42 if it were linked to inflation increases since 1968 and $10.75 if it were linked to changes in the Consumer Price Index since 1968. The minimum wage would be $17.19 per hour in 2013 if it were linked with productivity increases since 1968.

Number of the DayTwo-thirds – The fraction of Louisiana public high school seniors who cannot earn admission to a Louisiana college or university without remediation requirements.  (Source: Department of Education via The Advocate)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
State worker layoffs total 1,900
Nearly 1,900 state workers received pink slips last year, according to the latest figures from the state Department for State Civil Service. Most of the recent layoffs were the result of the ongoing efforts to privatize the state-run public hospital system. The latest layoffs means more than 4,000 state employees have been laid off since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in 2008.

Meanwhile, a former state hospital employee complains that Dr. Michael Kaiser was too quick to “shrug responsibility” for the dismantling of key health-care programs as the state hospitals are turned over to private vendors. Kaiser is the chief medical officer of the LSU Health Care Services Division, who announced last week that he is leaving that $350,000 per year post at the end of August. Renee Torregrossa, a retired medical technologist, says Kaiser and the Jindal administration have “never been forthcoming with documents supporting the notion that the state would benefit financially, medically, educationally or in any other way by privatizing Louisiana state hospitals. The people of Louisiana, particularly the thousands of laid-off state employees, deserve an explanation of how our state benefits in the death of “a system that could be a national model.” It’s clear we’ll never get it.”

Google, child abuse and government cutbacks
When the Great Recession threw millions of American families into an economic tailspin, one result was an increase in child abuse and neglect. But the number of such incidents that get reported to authorities actually fell, thanks largely to budget cuts to social programs that are supposed to protect children. That was the conclusion of a newly minted Harvard Ph.D., who used a novel technique to conduct his research. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz used data on aggregate Google searches to estimate how much abuse was actually occurring, and compared that to how many cases were being reported. “When you compare places that Google search data suggest have similar levels of abuse or neglect, you find that the less an area spends on social services for children, the lower its reported rates of child maltreatment,” he wrote in Sunday’s New York Times.

Teacher evaluation concerns resurface
The Louisiana Association of Educators is continuing to raise questions about the state’s new teacher evaluation system after the Department of Education delayed the final action on the evaluations of several dozen public school teachers. Most of the reviews involve teachers who were rated “ineffective” even though their students are performing at high levels. State officials downplayed the issue, noting that only 50 of 50,000 evaluations were withheld for further study.

Landrieu and Cassidy compete to lower flood insurance rates
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D, and her 2014 Senate opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, are vying to take responsibility for delaying big flood insurance premium increases for residents in coastal parishes – a key issue in the closely watched Senate race that could help determine which political party controls the upper chamber in 2015. The two candidates recently took credit in separate news releases for a planned visit to Louisiana by FEMA officials who oversee the flood insurance program.

Slidell Republican to lead health-care co-op
State Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell and chairman of the House insurance committee, is becoming the CEO of the Louisiana Health Cooperative, a new nonprofit insurance cooperative created to provide health insurance to individuals under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. LHC will offer benefits to consumers through a federally run online marketplace. The enrollment period is expected to open Oct. 1 with health care coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Number of the Day

1,891 – The number of state employees who received pink slips in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. (Source: Department of State Civil Service via the Associated Press)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Jindal administration still considering pension reform
Despite a rejection by the state Supreme Court, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is not giving up on its effort to steer future state workers into a 401(k)-style retirement plan. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told The Advocate that she is working with legislators to come up with an alternative plan, but still believes the “cash-balance” plan is the way to go. Lawmakers approved a “cash-balance” proposal in 2012, but the court later threw it out because it did not receive the two-thirds supermajority required of any retirement bill that raises costs to the state. While current state retirement benefits are guaranteed based on salary and years of service, the cash-balance plan would expose workers to more risk as their benefits would depend, in part, on market performance. The cash-balance plan is seen as a boon to those who only work for state government a short time, but critics say it disincentivizes long-term state employment and forces the state to put more money into the retirement system.

Workforce Commission isn’t working for some people
A surefire way to reduce public confidence in government is by making it virtually impossible for people to get basic questions answered in a timely and courteous manner. So it is with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, whose recent incompetence motivated Patrick McCarthy, a Lafayette accountant, to voice his frustrations in a letter to The Advocate. When Mr. McCarthy had a question about a new reporting requirement, he first tried to resolve his problem online, to no avail. Then he tried the phone. “After several attempts to access the electronic assistance, I visited the LaWorks physical office here in Lafayette,” McCarthy wrote.”I was told by an agent that no one in that office could help me, I would have to contact the offices in Baton Rouge — by telephone. A rereading of “Alice in Wonderland” is hereby required by all Louisiana residents and taxpayers. The agent also suggested that I contact my representatives.” It goes on from there, to the point where Gov. Jindal might want to remind his cabinet secretaries of his 2008 campaign promise to eliminate “incompetence” in state government.

Audit: Tax Commission not doing its job
The state Tax Commission needs to do a better job of ensuring that property assessments are fair and equitable, according to a new audit released Monday. Legislative Auditor’s report cited numerous instances where homes with similar market values received wildly disparate property tax bills. The report found that 39 percent of residences were not assessed within 10 percent of their fair market value, as the law requires. The Tax Commission, which is tasked with overseeing parish assessors, disputed the findings.

New Orleans schools to be billed for water use
The Sewage and Water Board will begin collecting water bills from all New Orleans public schools. State law grants schools an allowance of four gallons of water per person per day for free; S&WB will bill the schools for water consumed above this amount. Many school operators did not account for water bills in their budget because they were notified of S&WB’s decision after the start of the new fiscal year. It is unclear how many schools are at risk of exceeding their allowance, but data from prior years indicate several schools could pay tens of thousands of dollars in sewerage and water expenses next year.

Hank Braden, former state senator, dies at 68
Former Louisiana state senator Hank Braden, D-New Orleans, passed away Monday from congestive heart failure at Interim LSU Public Hospital. He was 68. Prior to serving in the state senate, Braden served as the director of manpower and economic development under former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu’s administration. He also worked to create African-American unions while employed with the Urban League. Braden graduated from St. Augustine High School and received a law degree from Loyola University.

Number of the Day

237 – The number of days until the start of the 2014 Legislative Session (Source: Louisiana State Legislature)

 

Monday, July 15, 2013
State closes youth foster care transition program
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is pulling the plug on a $1.2 million program that helps youth transition from foster care to independent adulthood. The state Department of Children and Family Services operated the Young Adult Program to offer incentives to foster children that enrolled full-time in school or a vocational program. But DCFS announced it will shut down the program due to scare funding in the state budget and the desire to make foster care a more temporary solution. Critics believe DCFS’ decision could force youth onto the streets once they become too old for foster care.

Louisiana ranks 2nd for low child dental care access
Louisiana ranks second in the nation for the percentage of children who have poor access to dental care, according to a new study by the PEW Charitable Trusts. More than 24 percent of children living in the Pelican State are underserved, and nearly half of all children enrolled in Medicaid do not receive regular dental care. The study cites to main factors for the disparity: an uneven distribution of dentists, and the fact that relatively few dentists participate in the Medicaid program.

‘Model inmate’ gains release from prison
Shelby Arabie, a convicted killer who turned his life around while serving a life sentence at Angola, became a free man Friday after Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a recommendation to commute his sentence. Arabie, whose release had strong backing from Angola warden Burl Cain, was featured in a 2012 story about the state Pardon Board, which was part of the “Louisiana Incarcerated” series in The Times-Picayune.

Farm subsidies vs food stamps on Capitol Hill
The New York Times and its columnists are fulminating about the House version of the farm bill, which gives lucrative federal subsidies to large agribusiness companies but leaves out reauthorization of the federal food stamp program – which Republicans say they hope to do in a separate bill. Paul Krugman says the recent growth of the food stamp program is justified, as more families need help paying for basic necessities in the wake of the Great Recession. Gail Collins points out that agribusiness welfare payments are actually more generous in the House bill than in the version passed by the Senate, and that farm programs have seen more fraud than the food stamp program.

National study finds job numbers below recession
The National Women’s Law Center released a new analysis of the employment picture for women and men as of June 2013. According to NWLC, “Although the pace of the recovery has picked up, especially for women, four years since the start of the recovery in June 2009, employment for women and men has yet to return to pre-recession levels.” The report also found that unemployment rates have declined for adult women, adult men, and most subgroups of women since the start of the recovery. Unemployment rates for African-American women have increased during the recovery.

State sells property to balance budget
The Advocate has a helpful roundup of all the state properties that are up for sale as part of the administration’s effort to keep the $25.4 billion budget in balance. As the newspaper reports, “The state wants to sell: More than 2,000 acres of prison farmland in Iberville Parish for $12 million, a state office building on Third Street in Baton Rouge for $10.2 million, property tied to a formerly state-run psychiatric hospital in St. Tammany Parish for $17.8 million [and] a downtown Baton Rouge parking garage for $2.1 million.”


Number of the Day

1 – Louisiana’s national (and world) ranking in incarceration rate. (Source: NOLA.com)

 

Friday, July 12, 2013
Special session to reconsider Jindal vetoes denied
The Louisiana Legislature will not convene Tuesday to reconsider Gov. Bobby Jindal’s line-item vetoes in the state budget, including $4 million in cuts to programs that provide home and community based services for people with developmental disabilities. Two-thirds of the state Senate returned ballots cancelling the special session by the Thursday midnight deadline, while only 38 of the 105 state representatives returned ballots to cancel. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said the costs and uncertainty of the veto session would not be in the state’s best interest.

LSU chief medical officer resigning
The head of the LSU Health Care Services Division is resigning from his $350,000-a-year job on Aug. 30. And Dr. Michael Kaiser had some choice words about the state’s ongoing hospital privatization efforts in an e-mail to colleagues obtained by The Advocate. While Kaiser said the reasons for his departure are personal, he also made clear that the privatization has taken a toll. “It is true that it has been hard to watch the dismantling of programs that are working, that are important for our patients, and that could be national models,” Kaiser wrote. Later in the email, he continued: “There are many advantages and efficiencies when we work together to improve quality and safety and lower costs,” Kaiser wrote. “I know it has been hard to plan for the separation of some critical components of our system … and it will be hard to watch the disentanglement. Yet HCSD remains committed to working with our partners to maintain some of the critical elements of our system.”

“Personally, I share in our collective sense of loss,” Kaiser wrote.

LSU Board of Supervisors award special scholarships
Members of the LSU Board of Supervisors awarded $1.3 million through little-known scholarship program, according to a  new story by The Lens. According to the report,  “[A]long with access to choice tickets at LSU football games, each board member receives a perk that has long existed in the shadows: the ability to award up to 20 scholarships a year for students to study at LSU. Last year those scholarships cost the state $1.3 million in foregone tuition, according to figures recently posted on the board’s website. Several supervisors awarded more than $100,000 worth of scholarships apiece.”

New changes to Louisiana’s disability waiver
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals will change the way it distributes waivers that provide in-home services, community integration and work-related support to the disabled. The New Opportunity Waivers will be distributed on a needs-based basis over the next year instead of a first-come, first-served basis, a move that the department says will both better utilize finite resources while making headway through the list in a timelier manner. More than 10,000 people are currently on the waiting list to receive a NOW waiver.

Your weekend read: Scott McCown exit interview
The Louisiana Budget Project is proud to be a part of the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative, a network of state-level policy groups that look at budget and tax issues and their impact on the poor. One of the groups we deeply admire in this network is the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Texas, whose director, Scott McCown, is resigning this summer after a decade to take a new job at the University of Texas Law School. But before leaving, he sat down with a reporter for Texas Monthly. His insights on Texas politics, policy and demographic change, the importance of public-sector investments, and the difficulties of promoting a progressive agenda in a conservative region are well worth a read.

 

Number of the Day$1.3 million – The amount of scholarships awarded by the LSU Board of Supervisors through a little-known scholarship program (Source: The Lens)

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013
Jindal administration draining elderly trust fund
The Associated Press shines an important light on one of the ways Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have managed to avoid even deeper cuts to health-care services in recent years: By conducting a series of raids on the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. When the fund was established with federal dollars in 2000, the intent was to spend interest and investment earnings to prop up the state’s elderly care programs. But when budgets became tight, policymakers started tapping into the principal. As a result, a fund that contained more than $830 million in 2008 is now down to $410 million — and is on course to be tapped out by the time Jindal leaves office in 2016. When that happens, legislators will need to find hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the state’s nursing homes open.

Blue Cross releases analysis of premium changes under new federal law
Most of the 2 million Louisianans who get health-care coverage through their job will likely pay less or only slightly more when the federal health-care law takes full effect next year, according to an analysis by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. On the other hand, about 21,000 households that buy their own coverage could experience premium increases of 15 percent to 70 percent. Insurance executive say the price changes are due to new fees on carriers, employers and individuals, as well as requirements that insurers offer richer benefits packages to their customers.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Budget Project analyst Steve Spires wrote a letter to the editor of the Advocate Thursday, clarifying earlier claims by Blue Cross about health-care costs that consumers should know before the new law takes effect in January. Spires notes that most individuals will be shielded from premium costs increases due to new federal tax credits that will “allow thousands of uninsured, moderate-income families to afford private coverage for the first time, and will help reduce premiums for others.”

Disabled continue to lobby for veto session
Advocates for the disabled are hoping lawmakers will call a veto override session to replace $4 million that Gov. Bobby Jindal cut from the state budget that was targeted for home-based services for the disabled. Lawmakers have until midnight Thursday to decide whether to convene the July 16 veto session, but prospects for a session appear dim. If the veto session is called, a two-thirds majority in both chambers is needed to overturn the governor’s veto.

U.S. Rep. Boustany ‘clarifies’ Affordable Care Act comments
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is backtracking on comments he made last week in which he appeared to come out in support of expanding Louisiana’s Medicaid program. Boustany’s “clarification” came after The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser reported last week that Boustany disagreed with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to reject the expansion, which would provide basic health coverage to 400,000 low-income Louisianans.“It could put Louisiana in a very bad place,” Boustany said last week. “To sit back and do nothing is not an answer.” Under fire from conservative blogs, one of which suggested he lose his chairmanship of a key House subcommittee for his apostasy, Boustany clarified his comments to the Baton Rouge Advocate on Wednesday, saying he opposes Obamacare but wants to “reform” Medicaid, without specifying what that means.

Louisiana kindergarten overhaul begins
Fifteen test parishes will overhaul their prekindergarten classes in the 2013-14 school year in preparation for a statewide rollout of new kindergarten readiness standards during the 2015-16 school year. The new standards are spelled out in Act 3 from the 2012 Legislative Session, the third component of Jindal’s education overhaul, which requires the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to create new guidelines for determining school performance, funding based on performance and licensing for child care facilities.

 

Number of the Day$420 million – The amount of money drained from the state’s Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office. (Source: The Associated Press)

 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Immigration reform a budget winner for Louisiana
Louisiana would gain $17 million in state and local tax revenues under the immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate, according to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.  The biggest gains would come from immigrants paying more in state income taxes as they gain legal status. “States with progressive tax systems, which include an income tax, would see the most significant revenue change since it is in the income tax where compliance will increase under reform,” the report says. “Unauthorized immigrants currently pay approximately the same level of sales and property taxes as other U.S. residents in the same income brackets.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bobby Jindal supplied reason No. 4871 that he’s at least thinking about running for president when he weighed in, for the first time, on the immigration debate. Writing in National Review Online, Jindal castigated the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” bill, and suggested instead a piecemeal approach — similar to the House strategy — where border security comes first, followed by a guest-worker program and a lengthy path to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants. Early reviews from Jindal’s fellow conservatives were not warm, with Reihan Salam writing that Jindal’s approach “strains credulity” and isn’t all that different from the Senate bill. “He embraces positions that are essentially identical to those embedded in the Senate immigration bill, including a path to citizenship, yet he seems to want more less-skilled immigration and a border enforcement process that rests on a pro forma decision by Congress and border state governors. Why wouldn’t he just call for a trivial amendment to the Senate immigration bill?

Health-care changes becoming slightly more transparent
The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler looks at the lack of transparency and key financial details surrounding the dramatic changes to state health policy that have occurred under Gov. Bobby Jindal — such as farming out much of the Medicaid program to private managed-care companies and contracting with private companies to manage most of the state-owned hospitals that make up the LSU health-care system. But she says things are slowly getting better, as the administration has agreed to let the Legislative Auditor have access to records at the newly privatized hospitals, while the governor recently signed a bill requiring more transparency in the Medicaid managed-care plans. “It won’t be a ‘trust me.’ It will be accountability,” Shuler writes.

Gulf Coast wildlife tourism generates $2 billion per year
Gulf Coast wildlife tourism generates $2 billion a year in annual spending in Louisiana, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Environmental Defense Fund. The industry also supports 82,000 jobs while providing $201 million a year in taxes for Louisiana and costal parishes. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne commented on the report during a news conference at the New Canal Lighthouse on Lake Pontchartrain, noting that 2 million visitors come to Louisiana every year to hunt, fish and view birds, alligators or other wildlife.

Teachers retire in large numbers
The number of teachers deciding to retire continues to be higher than usual, with more than 7,500 walking away from the classroom over the last two years. While state Superintendent of Education John White said the exodus is a result of veteran employees taking advantage of their retirement benefits, school superintendents believe the teachers’ decisions have a lot to do with policy changes like the new teacher evaluations and national common core standards that impose more rigorous classroom standards.

Consultant withdraws from jail phones contract
A group of consultants hired to analyze whether sheriffs charge inmates too much to use jail phones are walking away from the $82,000 contract because of alleged conflicts of interest. One of the consultants previously campaigned for the former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff and state Rep. Ernest Wooton, who lobbied against regulation of jailhouse phones. A group of protestant and Catholic clergy who counsel families with imprisoned loved ones advocated for regulations after learning that the Louisiana Department of Corrections collected more than $10 million in commissions from vendors operating prison phones during the past three fiscal years.

 

Number of the Day$17 million – The estimated increase in Louisiana’s state and local tax revenues that would result from immigration reform (Source: ITEP)

 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
CB&I expansion brings 400 new jobs to Baton Rouge
An estimated 400 new jobs are coming to Baton Rouge when CB&I centralizes its government solutions division in the capital city, state and local officials announced Monday. The jobs, partially subsidized by taxpayers, will pay an average salary of between $68,000 and $78,000 per year, plus benefits. According to the Advocate, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development “offered CB&I a $3.3 million performance-based grant to secure the expansion. The grant will reimburse relocation and recruitment costs and cover the FastStart workforce development program. CB&I is expected to utilize the state’s Quality Jobs cash rebate program.”

New study looks at modernizing state sales taxes
Cash-strapped states could raise millions of dollars for investments in education, transportation and other economic drivers by modernizing their sales-tax collection systems, according to a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report lists four ways that states can make their sales-tax systems more compatible with 21st century economics, such as broadening them to include more services, requiring large online retailers to collect sales taxes and closing a loophole that allows online travel companies to avoid collecting sales taxes on hotel bookings.

Health Affairs: Using Medicaid expansion for private insurance coverage
With many states wary of expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, more states are looking instead to the “private option,” where federal Medicaid dollars are used to buy private coverage through the new health insurance exchanges. A new policy brief in the journal Health Affairs takes a detailed look at the pros and cons of the private option, a version of which — the Louisiana Health Care Independence Program — failed during the 2013 session amid opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Louisiana unemployment claims slightly increase
The Louisiana Workforce Commission reported a slight increase in the number of Louisiana residents who filed unemployment claims last month. The total number of people who filed a claim for regular unemployment insurance and received at least one check increased to 21,396 in June 2013, up by more than 1,300 from May 2013. The four-week average of initial claims decreased from the previous week, but the four-week average of continued claims increased to 24,505 from the previous week’s average of 23,819.

Southern University fails to spend $800,000 in yearbook fees
Southern University collected nearly $1 million in yearbook fees from students without producing yearbooks for the past five years, according to a new audit. The university’s vice chancellor for student affairs, Brandon Dumas, said yearbook production ceased when the university’s former director of student media “transferred to the Athletic Department in 2009 and wasn’t replaced for several years,” according to the Advocate. The administration is vowing to print a “mega-volume” of the 2013 yearbook. It will include the student photos taken for the 2009-12 yearbook editions.
Number of the Day24,505 – The four-week average of continued unemployment insurance claims filed in Louisiana for the period ending June 29, 2013 (Source: Louisiana Workforce Commission via Nola.com)
Monday, July 8, 2013
Public record access remains low
Changes made to Louisiana’s open records law in 2009 have allowed state agencies to keep large amounts of information from public inspection, the Associated Press reports in its weekly politics column. The 2009 law, backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, shields any information that’s deemed to be part of the governor’s “deliberative process,” and in recent years it’s been used to protect a broad swath of state institutions from turning over records to the public. But a legislative effort to change the law failed to get out of a House committee.

Student loans get more expensive in Louisiana
Koran Addo of The Advocate wrote a thoughtful story about the interest rates on federal student loans, which doubled on July 1 and will affect nearly half of Louisiana college students. The rate hike came about because of Congress’ continued inability to perform the most rudimentary tasks, and could cost the average Louisiana student about $4,000. While this development was unwelcome news to college officials, including LSU System President F. King Alexander, the governor’s office took a more upbeat view. The Louisiana Workforce Commission cited Louisiana’s improving job prospects (even though the state unemployment rate is rising), and said that means graduates will have more money available to service their higher debt burdens.

States move toward drug rehabilitation programs
An increasing number of states are turning away from mandatory jail sentences and toward drug rehabilitation programs in hopes of shrinking their prison populations and saving taxpayer dollars. The trend is particularly pronounced in conservative Southern states like Georgia, Texas and South Carolina. Louisiana is also a part of this trend. A new law allows some drug offenders to enter drug court probation and mandatory treatment instead of being sent to jail, and allows current inmates to shorten their sentence by completing treatment.

Nola.com: FEMA should halt insurance rake hikes
FEMA should halt looming flood insurance rate increases that could cost some Louisiana homeowners 1,000 times more than they had been paying with federal subsidies. Estimates place the increased insurance cost for some at $28,000 per year. As nola.com explained in a Sunday editorial, “Some [residents] may be forced to drop coverage. But if they have a mortgage… they won’t be able to do that… In addition to making flood policies unaffordable for current homeowners, the rate hikes could make some homes impossible to sell because potential buyers couldn’t afford the insurance either.

U.S. residents lag in vacation
Columnist Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post cites a new report that finds Americans rank dead last among advanced countries in vacations. The report from the Center from Economic and Policy Research notes that workers in some European countries receive roughly six weeks of paid vacation each year, with some countries providing extra time for certain workers. In the U.S., however, according to the article, “About 90 percent of full-time employees get vacations that average (with paid holidays) about four weeks, according to government figures cited in the CEPR report. For part-time workers, about 35 percent to 40 percent receive paid time off. Not surprisingly, low-wage workers fare the worst. Only about half of the poorest-paid 25 percent receive paid time off.”

 

Number of the Day15 – The percent of state higher education funding tied to education outcomes (Source: Stateline)

 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Job numbers not as gaudy as advertised
While Gov. Bobby Jindal is proud of pointing out that Louisiana’s unemployment rate is lower than the nation as a whole, Tyler Bridges of The Lens takes a deeper look at the state’s economic performance and finds that things aren’t as rosy as portrayed. Unemployment has shot up from 3.8 percent to 6.8 percent since the governor took office, and it is rising at a time when the national rate is falling. One reason for this is directly related to the governor’s policies. “Jindal regularly promotes the benefits of a smaller government, but this means fewer jobs, at least in the short term,” Bridges writes. “Since December, state hospitals have been privatized, and the state’s colleges and universities have had less money to spend because of budget cuts mandated by Jindal and the Republican-controlled state Legislature. At the same time, the federal government – pushed by Republicans in Congress – has cut billions of dollars in spending.”

Bond refinancing yields less than expected
The refinancing of Louisiana’s tobacco-settlement bonds was completed Tuesday and brought in $83 million — or $60 million less than administration officials were estimating in May. Most of that money has already been plugged in to the $25 billion operating budget, with about 70 percent of it going to support TOPS college scholarships for above-average students. The sale brought immediate criticism from state Treasurer John Kennedy, who told NOLA.com that the state “left money on the table” by not waiting until interest rates had settled down. Still, the proceeds were within the $75 million to $85 million overall savings that the Division of Administration projected when it first suggested the refinancing deal earlier this year.

Disability activist challenges Jindal figures
A longtime advocate for people with disabilities challenged Gov. Bobby Jindal’s defense of his budget vetoes, saying they amount to “more spin from an administration that are masters at diverting attention from reality.” Kay Marcel of New Iberia writes in The Advocate that the state’s waiting list for in-home services for the disabled continues to grow, and that the quality of such services has decreased in recent years due to provider rate cuts. She accuses the administration of using misleading numbers to paint a rosy budget picture. “While it is true that Louisiana ranks ‘among the top 10 states in terms of total spending for people with developmental disabilities,’ that is largely because of Louisiana’s continued overutilization of the most-expensive service model. Louisiana is ranked first in the country in the number of individuals per capita living in 24-hour residential facilities,” Marcel writes.

Article reveals the challenges for rural school districts
Friar’s Point, Miss., was held up as an example of why school choice initiatives don’t work for every district in an article that appeared in Time Magazine. School choice initiatives are based on free market principles — firing teachers and closing schools that don’t make the grade. But, according to the article: “These are places with little civic or economic infrastructure, a shortage of educated professionals, and little — if anything — to attract newcomers. There’s no qualified teacher available to take the place of a colleague who does not make the cut, no charter school operator poised to swoop in and take the reins of a school defined as failing, and little left to keep the community alive if the school closes outright.”

Judge orders study of Death Row temperatures
A federal judge has ordered temperature data on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to be collected for 21 straight days in the lead-up to an Aug. 5 trial on a motion filed by three condemned killers who claim excessive heat amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The suit, filed last month, says the heat index in the cellblock housing those condemned to die exceeded 172 degrees last year and has been as high as 195 degrees.

Reminder: Free health-care clinic at New Orleans Convention Center today
If you’re poor and uninsured in Louisiana you probably won’t be getting health coverage anytime soon, thanks to the administration’s decision to reject the expansion of Medicaid. But you can get a free checkup at the Convention Center today thanks to a clinic being hosted by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. More information about this important event is available by calling 1-800-340-1301.

Number of the Day16,100 — Number of federal, state and local government jobs in Louisiana that have disappeared since January 2008. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics via The Lens)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Maternity health-care costs spotlight deeper problems
Childbirth costs more money in the United States than just about anywhere else, according to the latest installment in an invaluable New York Times series that looks at America’s uniquely expensive health-care system. And all that money does not lead to better outcomes, while leaving many mothers with huge bills to pay after their babies are born. The newspaper found that “charges for delivery have about tripled since 1996,” and that “maternity and newborn care constitute the single biggest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs.”

The reasons for all this cost are hardly mysterious: American women get more services — at a higher cost — than their counterparts in other countries. “And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans,” The Times reports. “It’s not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby,” said Gerard Anderson, an economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who studies international health costs. “It’s that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive.”

Federal tax credit helps 33,000 Louisiana military families
An estimated 33,000 veteran or active-duty military families with children in Louisiana receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), according to a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. These two working family tax credits reduce economic hardship and help increase opportunity for children. The EITC rewards work and protects children from poverty by raising the incomes of low- to moderate-income families. Only families who have earned income from work during the year can qualify. Nearly 30 percent of all Louisiana households receive the credit. Click here to read the full report, and here to read a blog by LBP that looks specifically at Louisiana.

New state trooper class aims to replenish the ranks
There are 75 fewer state troopers patrolling the state highways today than in 2008-09, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s first year in office, and the overall Louisiana State Police force has shrunk by 15 percent over that time frame. Hoping to stop the hemorrhaging, the Legislature added $5 million in this year’s budget for a new cadet class, which will train 40 new troopers starting early next year. The money will come from a new Office of Debt Recovery, which was created through a separate bill and will try to step up the state’s efforts to collect money it is owed from various sources. State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson told The Advocate that he is not accepting new applications, as there already is a 700-person backlog of qualified candidates who have been on a state waiting list.

Analysis: Too early to call Jindal a “lame duck.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal may have suffered some political setbacks in recent months — slumping poll ratings, a failed tax plan and several signature laws being struck down by the state Supreme Court — but the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reminds us that Louisiana governors still hold a great deal of power. And this governor, in particular, has not been shy about using it. Jindal’s still deciding the course of hundreds of millions of dollars in spending and making decisions that will affect Louisiana for decades after he’s gone,” Deslatte writes. “The Republican governor is dismantling the state’s charity hospital system, he’s keeping the state from expanding its Medicaid program under federal law and he’ll chart the course for construction spending in the fiscal year that begins July 1. With his veto power, Jindal’s jettisoned a slew of items overwhelmingly backed by lawmakers, including millions of dollars in add-ons to the budget that received near-unanimous backing from the Legislature.”

Number of the Day1,500,000 — The number of military families with children that receive either the federal Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Monday, July 1, 2013
State pension plan ruled unconstitutional
The “cash-balance” retirement plan for new state workers that Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed in 2012 was struck down as unconstitutional Friday by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The court ruled that the bill failed to get the required two-thirds supermajority required of bills that would raise the state’s retirement costs, Nola.com reports. The ruling is the latest legal setback for the governor’s agenda, following the court’s rejection of the financing mechanism for the state’s new school voucher program.

More than 7,000 people losing Medicaid coverage
The Jindal administration is in the process of removing approximately 6,200 pregnant women and another 1,200 or so disabled people from the Medicaid rolls and moving them to an insurance exchange where they will be expected to buy private insurance plans with government subsidies. The move is expected to save the state $66.4 million, and could allow pregnant women to move away from the temporary coverage offered by Medicaid and into year-round coverage. But some advocacy groups and physicians have expressed concern with the uncertainty still apparent in the plan. Since Louisiana has not elected to expand Medicaid, it’s possible that some of those being kicked off the Medicaid rolls in January will not qualify for government subsidies, leaving a coverage gap for the most vulnerable residents.

Colleges express concern over cash flow
Higher education officials in Louisiana have expressed concern that cuts in state funding may hurt their ability to meet financial obligations in the future. As the Advocate reported, “Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May said that as state funds to higher education shrinks; it has become more important to have cash reserves on hand, especially during summer months when schools aren’t collecting tuition.” Gov. Bobby Jindal dismissed the concern as “worrying over nothing,” and the governor’s chief budget advisor said the state’s higher education budget has more than enough funds to help colleges with issues as they arise.

Columnist criticizes Jindal for hotel tax increase
Columnist James Gill says a bill signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal violates the spirit, if not the letter, of his pledge to not raise taxes. “The tax he has just signed into law will double the budget of a private and secretive corporation that already enjoys a multimillion-dollar public subsidy. The public has been told very little about how the new money will be spent, and that little does not square with the wording of the act,” Gill said. He was referring to a 1.75 percent tax added to hotel bills in New Orleans, which will garner an additional $12 million per year, approximately. That money will go to the New Orleans Tourist and Convention Bureau. Gill said Jindal denied that this was a tax increase. “Thus we have a ‘surcharge’ imposed under an ‘optional self-generated private-sector self-assessment program.’ But then comes a clause that reveals the truth. This is an ‘enforceable obligation of the guest.’”

Fees bite into low-income workers’ pay
Employers are moving away from paper paychecks in an effort to save money, but the New York Times reports that some workers are suffering unintended consequences of the switch. According to the article, “For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers. … But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee.” The article cited one worker who makes $7.25 an hour, but ends up paying $40-$50 per month on fees.

Number of the Day300,000 — The number of people who do not qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford private insurance on their own. (Source: The Advocate)

 

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