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.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Department of Education accused of wasting $33 million
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux accused the state Department of Education of wasting nearly $33 million by overpaying the company that is responsible for overseeing the city’s $1.8 billion school building master plan. As Nola.com reports, “Many [school] campuses were dilapidated even before Hurricane Katrina and the city had too many seats for the student body, necessitating a complete overhaul. Quatrevaux argued in a letter Thursday that the state should have reduced Jacobs/CSRS’ contract in line with reductions in the number and dollar amount of school building projects.” Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard refuted Quatrevaux’s findings, calling them “totally inaccurate.”
Kennedy: Details matter in hospital reform
State Treasurer John Kennedy published an op-ed yesterday scolding Gov. Bobby Jindal for not publically releasing details of his plans to reform the state’s Charity Hospital System so taxpayers can decide whether Jindal’s efforts are good or bad. “Sweeping rhetoric is no substitute for rigorous financial analysis when dealing with billions of dollars of taxpayer assets,” Kennedy wrote in the article. He added that Jindal owes the public “straight answers” and listed 13 questions about the reform plan.
EBR group continues push for new municipality
Some residents in East Baton Rouge Parish are continuing to make their case for a new municipality and school district by holding a third meeting in two weeks to build support for incorporation. The state legislature passed a bill establishing the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District, but rejected funding for the district due to concerns that the proposed school district does not correspond to city or parish boundaries. The proposed municipality would include all of the unincorporated land south of the city of Baton Rouge, encompassing more than 100,000 residents. Opponents to the plan say it will lead to higher taxes within the municipality and complicate funding for other school systems.
Jindal signs $5 billion construction budget
Jindal signed the state’s construction budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 without vetoing any measures. The vetoes are unnecessary because the governor’s office already has the authority to decide which projects advance and which don’t. Nola.com reports that the nearly $5 billion construction budget will fund ongoing projects and includes “nearly $330 million in new projects that the state can afford to start.”
West Feliciana approves controversial charter repeal election
The West Feliciana Parish Police Jury voted 4-3 to call an October election on repealing its home-rule charter after some residents raised concerns that it reduces minority participation in parish government. The charter, which won voter approval last November by 337 votes, replaces the seven-member Police Jury with a parish president and a five-member council. The charter’s new voting districts were sent the U.S. Justice Department for approval under the Voting Rights Act, but that approval is no longer necessary following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wednesday ruling that Section 4 of the act is unconstitutional.
$33 million – The amount of money New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux says the state Department of Education overpaid contractors to rebuild schools in the city following Hurricane Katrina (Source: Nola.com)
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Hospitals seek budget explanation from Jindal
The Louisiana Hospital Association is requesting data from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to explain more than $50 million in health care cuts. State Department of Health and Hospitals officials announced last week that the cuts, most of which were made to Medicaid, were necessary to prevent the agency from operating in a shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1. But LHA vice president Sean Prados disputes the claim, saying that the administration is making assumptions about the cost of health care based on irrelevant historical data.
Tobacco settlement plan threatens future state budgets
State Treasurer John Kennedy expressed concerns Wednesday that rising interest rates may cause the governor’s tobacco resettlement plan to generate significantly less savings than expected. The governor’s plan anticipates $140 million in savings over three years, but Kennedy’s forecast places the actual savings as low as $66 million. Some of the savings anticipated by the governor are included in Louisiana’s $25 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The Advocate notes that any loss in savings would not affect that budget, but could pose revenue shortfalls in coming years.
Landrieu wants extension of current student loan interest rate
Sen. Mary Landrieu is wants Congress to temporary extend the current 3.4 percent interest rate for subsidized student loans instead of approving a compromise plan that establishes a variable rate tied to the yield of 10-year treasury notes. The compromise plan would raise the current interest rate to 3.7 percent. Landrieu opposes the compromise because it has no cap, meaning students can experience significantly higher interest rates in the future. If Congress doesn’t act, student loan interest rates are scheduled to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on Monday.
Teach for America aid sparks controversy
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s approval of $1.2 million in public funds for Teach for America has sparked controversy among K-12 education officials. Superintendent of Education John White, a TFA alum, praised the board’s decision and defended the assistance as a way to help the state’s long-suffering public school system. But BESE board member Lottie Beebe called TFA a “staffing agency” and said it makes more sense to rely on colleges and universities for teachers.
Several states impose online sales taxes
Several states will begin collecting sales taxes from Internet transactions on July 1 instead of waiting for Congress to act. Minnesota is leading the charge by imposing a 6.875 percent tax on digital audio works like songs, readings of books, speeches, ring tones or other sound recordings. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that Louisiana lost more than $800 million last fiscal year from foregone Internet sales taxes, and the National Governor’s Association places the nationwide tax loss at $23 billion.
Federal concerns remain for hospital privatizations
The Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services sent a letter to two state legislators expressing ongoing concerns with Jindal’s proposed privatization of state hospitals. The letter notes, “to the extent that the lease agreements contain financing arrangements that are involved in the state’s funding of its Medicaid program, [the federal government] will review the lease arrangements to insure (sic) compliance with federal Medicaid laws and regulations.” The Jindal administration has not informed CMS how Louisiana will fund Medicaid payments through the agreements. No federal dollars will be provided for the proposed changes if CMS does not approve the state’s revised funding for Medicaid.
$808.3 million – Louisiana’s estimated sales tax loss from Internet sales. (Source: National Conference of State Legislatures)
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Jindal attempts to defend budget cuts to programs for disabled residents
During his first remarks to reporters since announcing his line-item vetoes to the state budget on Friday, Gov. Bobby Jindal attempted to defend his decision to cut nearly $4 million for at-home care for the developmentally disabled. The governor blamed the cuts on a legislative requirement instructing him to reduce the state’s $25 billion budget by $40 million before the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. In addition to cuts for the developmentally disabled, Jindal vetoed nearly $800,000 in funding originally allocated for Children’s Special Health Clinics and nearly $1 million in funding originally allocated to help with at-home care for children with developmental disabilities.
U.S. Supreme Court decision on Voting Rights Act impacts Louisiana
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Section 4 of the Voting Right Act means Louisiana and its local governing agencies are no longer required to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice — called “preclearance” — on every election matter. As The Advocate reports, “The ruling could affect several pending cases on the local level in Louisiana, ranging from the composition of the Iberville Parish School Board to the expediting of a parish president election in West Feliciana Parish.” The ruling also creates an opportunity for the state legislature to pass more stringent and controversial voter identification laws.
Judge not removed from $200 million Medicaid lawsuit
State District Judge Mike Caldwell has decided not to recuse state District Judge Tim Kelley from a lawsuit disputing the state’s decision to cancel a nearly $200 million Medicaid claims processing contract with Client Network Services Inc. Assistant State Attorney General David Caldwell asked Kelly to recuse himself — or for the court to recuse Kelley — “because CNSI attorney Lewis Unglesby recently represented Kelley in what has been described as a ‘personal matter’ and because Kelley’s wife — former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis — will be called as a witness in the CNSI case,” according to the Advocate. In denying the request to recuse Kelley, Judge Caldwell, who is not related to David Caldwell, stated he is confident Kelley will recuse himself if it becomes necessary to do so.
LA Association of Public Charter Schools defends against “gate-ification”
Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Executive Director Caroline Roemer Shirley wrote a letter to the editor of Nola.com defending the state’s shift toward charter schools. In response to Robert Mann’s June 23 column arguing that the “gate-ification of schools” in Louisiana has done more harm than good, Shirley writes, “Mann claims charter schools in New Orleans … are the ‘worst performing in the city.’ Test results show, however, that student performance continues to improve faster than any district in the state, a direct result of the re-creation of a public school system based entirely on choice and principal-driven decision-making.”
LA community and technical colleges compromise on tuition increase
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System and the Board of Regents reached a handshake agreement Tuesday on a deal allowing LCTCS to raise its tuition by $12 million while only absorbing an $8.6 million state budget cut in the fiscal year that starts July 1. State law allows public colleges and universities to increase tuition by 10 percent each year if they meet certain guidelines under the 2010 LA GRAD act, but those tuition increases are often offset by budget cuts from the state by the same amount. The handshake agreement allows LCTCS to avoid the dollar-for-dollar cuts while still absorbing a large share of the cuts. LSU will lose almost $2 million; the UL System will lose almost $1 million; and Southern will lose about $100,000.
BP may seek to recover some settlement payments
BP is mounting an aggressive campaign to recover potentially billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The oil giant warned lawyers for many Gulf Coast businesses that it is appealing a legal ruling regarding the interpretation of the multi-billion dollar settlement reached with a group of plaintiffs’ attorneys. If that appeal is successful, BP would initiate recovery efforts. One attorney described BP’s appeal as “buyer’s remorse because it guessed wrong on the cost of a deal.”
$800,000 – The amount of money Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed from the state budget that was originally allocated for Children’s Special Health Clinics. (Source: Nola.com)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Supreme Court rules Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision this morning that a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional. According to the opinion of the Court, “Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to pre-clearance.” Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, with Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito joining. Justice Ginsburg filed the dissenting opinion, with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joining.
Louisiana ranked 46th for child well-being
Louisiana’s national ranking for overall child well-being is 46th in this year’s annual Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report tracks government statistics on various quality-of-life indicators and tabulates a ranking that shows how well children fare in each state. Louisiana improved in 11 of 16 indicators, including the number of children attending preschool and the number of students graduating high school on time. But the state’s rankings on indicators measuring children’s economic well-being dropped. For example, the number of children with parents who did not have a full-time job throughout 2011 rose by 9 percent to 35 percent.
New Orleans lawmakers angry about Jindal’s vetoes
Several New Orleans lawmakers expressed their disapproval of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to veto funding for children and people with disabilities from next year’s budget, and each expressed support for holding a special veto session to override the governor’s cuts. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, Chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, went one step further by saying she would also support a special session to address federal Medicaid Expansion, the LSU hospital privatizations and funding for the state’s voucher program. State legislators have an opportunity every year to convene a session to try to override the governor’s vetoes, but have never had enough support for such a session.
Louisiana is one of 12 states using Medicaid dollars for inmates
Louisiana is one of a dozen states that use federal Medicaid dollars to cover at least half the cost of hospitalizations and nursing home stays of state prison inmates. As Stateline reports, “In states that are using Medicaid to help pay for hospital stays, the most common type of medical care that qualifies is hospitalization for childbirth, nursing home care for elderly inmates and surgery and other treatments for cancer, liver disease and other illnesses.” Louisiana was one of three states that pioneered the use of Medicaid for inmate hospitalization.
Louisiana charter school academic gains outpace public schools
A new study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes concludes that Louisiana charter school students are improving academically at a faster rate than their peers in conventional public schools. As Nola.com summarizes, “In one year at an average Louisiana charter school, students gained the equivalent of 50 days of learning in reading and 65 days in mathematics. The findings continue a trend that the research institute saw in 2009 and 2011.” The CREDO report also advocates for closing poor-performing charters.
Jindal veto causes a 35 percent budget cut for LATAN’s disability services
The Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities, will experience a 35 percent reduction in its annual budget due to Jindal’s budget vetoes. The governor’s veto message said the state cannot afford to expand the program. But LATAN officials said Monday they are not expanding the program. Instead, state funding and federal dollars are used nearly every year to help thousands of people with disabilities purchase equipment that helps them go to work, attend school and live in the community. The cuts will result in staff layoffs and the closure of demonstration centers across the state.
Privatization of state insurance services may not generate expected savings
A new report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor concludes that the privatization of Louisiana’s lines of insurance and loss prevention services, initiated in 2010, might not reach the total estimated savings due to an increase in contract costs and reliance on outdated data. State officials awarded a $68 million contract to F.A. Richard to take over insurance services from the Division of Administration’s Office of Risk Management. The contract was amended to approximately $75 million the following year to include a 10 percent cost increase. The legislative auditor notes the contract has thus far produced between one-third and 46 percent of the total anticipated savings, and the total savings could be up to 31 percent less than originally estimated.
317,000 – The number of Louisiana children living in poverty, which equals 29 percent of all Louisiana children. (Source: Kids Count via The Advocate)
Monday, June 24, 2013
Jindal strips $4 million from $25 billion state budget
Gov. Bobby Jindal used his line item veto power to strip $4 million from the state’s $25 billion budget on Friday. Most of the vetoed funding was supposed to expand a program that provides at-home services to the developmentally disabled. The governor also stripped money for disabled services, including for a family support program, assistive technology services and regional resource centers. “Also cut from the budget was money for arts grants, a requirement that local emergency preparedness offices get a share of a federal emergency management grant, and funding for continued operations of certain children’s health clinics,” according to the Associated Press.
Questions remain about the state’s $200 million tax amnesty program
The Associated Press writes that a large question mark remains about how much the state will collect from a new tax amnesty program, which allows delinquent taxpayers to pay overdue taxes without penalties and interest in the first year and reduced penalties and interest in the second year. Despite concerns from the Legislature’s financial analysts, the state operating budget that begins July 1 assumes the program will generate $200 million to pay private health-care providers for caring for Medicaid patients. The money is used to draw down federal Medicaid matching dollars, so if some of the money doesn’t arrive as expected, the health-care funding loss is multiplied.
Robert Mann: Louisiana is walling off schoolchildren from each other
Nola.com columnist and LSU professor Robert Mann says that a strong component of Louisiana’s education “reform” agenda is abandoning public schools in favor of private educational enclaves, and that this “gate-ification” of schools is a failure to students and broader communities. Less than half of the state’s voucher students scored at or above grade level last spring, while 80 of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) schools are “beset with allegations of mismanagement, wasteful spending and millions in lost or stolen property.” Mann also quoted an education historian who said that offering seats in private and charter schools to a small portion of students “breaks up any sense of community spirit centered on the community school.”
Residents consider forming a new city for breakaway school district
Residents supporting a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge are considering a campaign to form their own municipality. The battle for a new school district just ended its second year, with lawmakers approving some legislation that would enable the school district but not financing it. Adding a fifth municipality to East Baton Rouge Parish could generate money for the new district, but “would take a large chunk of tax revenues from the city-parish government and may result in higher taxes for residents of the new municipality,” according to The Advocate. While boundaries for the new city have not been proposed yet, residents are eying the unincorporated part of the parish contained within the St. George and the East Side fire protection districts. More than 100,000 residents reside in that area.
Louisiana awaits Supreme Court ruling on Voting Rights Act
A Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of a portion of the Voting Rights Act can have major impacts on future elections in Louisiana and other states with a history of racial discrimination. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires the Pelican State and other jurisdictions to submit any proposed voting changes to the Justice Department for approval, or “preclearance.” Electoral changes that may be put into practice if Section 5 is struck down include statewide redistricting plans that can remove majority minority districts and voter identification laws that disproportionately burden low-income, elderly and minority groups.
40 – The percent of state voucher students that scored at or above grade level last spring (Source: Nola.com)
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Louisiana is a national leader in economic mega-deals
Louisiana has approved 11 economic development “mega-deals” since 2008 — the fifth most in the nation — according to a new report by Good Jobs First. The report defines mega-deals as ones that come with state and local subsidies worth at least $75 million. Altogether, Louisiana provided companies with nearly $3.2 billion in subsidy payments, tax breaks and other benefits. The largest incentive package was the $1.69 billion given in 2010 to Cheniere Energy. That deal cost the state $7.5 million per new job, the highest cost-per-job in the nation among the deals reviewed in the report.
LSU privatizes Bogalusa hospital despite missing key financial details
The LSU Board of Supervisors approved a contract to turn over the management of the Bogalusa Medical Center to a private operator starting in January. The rural, state-owned hospital will be managed by the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System. As with similar previous deals, the board agreed to the contract terms without key pieces of financial information. In addition, many are unclear about whether certain services will be provided. Privatization deals have now been approved for eight of LSU’s 10 hospitals.
Jindal approves $1 million allocation for deaf phone services
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill into law this week that will steer $1 million of state sales tax revenues each year to the Telecommunications Fund for the Deaf. The push to steer the sales taxes was a compromise reached after Jindal opposed a proposal to charge a new, 2-cent monthly tax on cell phones to drum up money for the fund. The Telecommunications Fund for the Deaf provides hearing aids, sign language interpretation, captioning and telecommunications services for the hearing-impaired.
Internet sales taxes could reap $23 billion for states
The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures say states could realize $23 billion in uncollected taxes if Congress approves the Internet sales tax bill, formerly known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act.” The U.S. Senate approved the act by a 69-27 vote in May, but debate has stalled in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. While some worry the law would have negative effects on small businesses, proponents say the act would exempt businesses that do less than $1 million in sales annually. Supporters also note the existence of software that they said would help state and businesses collect the tax with little effort.
Farm bill proposed by U.S. House committee takes 2 million people off SNAP
The version of the farm bill approved by the U.S. House Agriculture Committee would reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) by almost $21 billion over the next decade, eliminating food assistance to nearly 2 million low-income people, mostly senior citizens and working families with children. The bill’s SNAP cuts would come on top of an across-the-board reduction in benefits that every SNAP recipient will experience starting Nov. 1, 2013. On that date, the increase in SNAP benefits established by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) will end, resulting in a loss of approximately $25 in monthly SNAP benefits for a family of four.
Study: Tobacco taxes raise revenue, save lives
Raising taxes on cigarettes will not only bring in new revenues to the federal government, it also will improve public health. That’s according to a study released Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The study also found cigarette taxes — which President Obama is proposing to raise by 94 cents a pack to help pay for his early-childhood education initiative — are not nearly as regressive as critics contend. When cigarette taxes were last raised in 2009, poor people paid 12 percent of the increase, but received 46 percent of the health benefits, the report says.
5 – Louisiana’s national ranking in the number of approved economic development subsidy packages with a total state and local costs of $75 million or more since 2008. (Source: Good Jobs First)
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Federal transfers nearly half of Louisiana budget, rank #2 in nation
Louisiana ranks second nationally in the amount of financial support it receives from the federal government as a share of state revenues, according to a new graphic published by the conservative Tax Foundation. Nearly 47 percent of the state’s revenues come courtesy of Uncle Sam, second only to Mississippi at 49 percent.
New $50 million tax credit program becomes law
Jindal signed into law a new tax credit program that will cost the state $50 million over four years, despite state budget concerns. State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, sponsored the bill creating The New Markets Jobs Tax Credit, which provides incentives for private businesses to invest in low-income rural and “emerging urban” communities. Leger predicts that the New Markets Jobs Tax Credit will ultimately bring in $1 billion in investment. Businesses can claim the credit against their insurance premium tax. Several safeguards are built into the credit program to protect the state against poor returns-on-investment, like a provision that allows the credit to kick in only after the state sees $110,000 of private investment in low-income community businesses.
Louisiana’s senior health near bottom in new ranking
Louisiana recently ranked 48th in the nation for senior health, according to the inaugural edition of United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Senior Report. The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report assesses state-level performance on 34 different elements, including both health determinants and health outcomes. High rates of flu vaccination, availability of home health care workers and low prevalence of falls were among the listed strengths for the state. Among the challenges were obesity, low levels of physical activity, high prevalence of smoking and high levels of seniors living in poverty.
Cuts to food stamps are key in Farm Bill debate
Lawmakers in both the U.S. House and Senate are considering measures to scale back spending and enrollment growth in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. A version of the Farm Bill proposed by the House reduces SNAP spending by $20.5 billion by changing the way states can determine eligibility. A Senate version seeks to cut $3.9 billion by changing the way 15 states use energy assistance to enroll citizens in the program.. The new cuts would be on top of benefit reductions scheduled later this year. The average monthly food stamp benefit for Louisiana residents is between $130 and $140.
Federal Internet sales tax bill encounters opposition
Legislation that would allow states to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases is facing growing Republican opposition in the U.S. House and may not have enough support to even achieve a floor vote. Several Republicans denounced the Marketplace Fairness Act on Tuesday, saying the bill is an effective tax increase on average Americans and is an unfair extension of local laws and bureaucracy onto global Internet commerce. The bill passed the Senate with 69 votes in May. Supporters such as box-store retailers, small businesses and some major online companies like Amazon.com argue that online businesses have an unfair price advantage since they can sell items cheaper because state and local sales taxes usually are not applied.
New law requires reporting on LSU board scholarship recipients
Jindal signed a new law Tuesday that will require annual reports of scholarships awarded by members of the LSU and Southern Board of Supervisors. LSU board members control 20 scholarships each while Southern board members can award varying numbers, the most being five by the board chairman. The Board Scholarship Reporting Act, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, requires the annual reports to include the name of each scholarship recipient, the name of the board member making the award, whether the scholarship consists of a waiver of tuition or a cash award or both, and the annual dollar value of the scholarship.
47 – The percent of Louisiana’s financial support that it receives from the federal government as a share of state revenues. (Source: The Tax Foundation)
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Leger: Legislature needs to do a lot more work on budget
Louisiana House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III (D-New Orleans) told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday that legislators should stop patting themselves on the back for showing independence and bipartisanship during the just-ended 2013 legislation session. While there was room for some fanfare, Leger said lawmakers made no significant advances in the budget-writing process. “I think we kicked the can down the road on the budget.” He said it would take legislators continuing to work together across party lines to tackle the big issues that remain, such as stable funding sources for health care and higher education and steps to grow the state’s economy.
Jindal launches statewide tour; signs new education bills
Gov. Bobby Jindal is embarking on a statewide tour of all 64 parishes to discuss economic development, education, transportation and coastal restoration issues. The tour launched on Monday in Alexandria, where the governor signed a controversial community and technical colleges construction bill. The governor has already signed several new education bills since the legislative session ended June 6, including a bill that outlined the mechanics of creating the breakaway Southeast Baton Rouge Community school system and a bill that allows parents to petition to shift control from some failing Recovery School District schools back to the local system. The governor – or one of his ghostwriters – also found time to write another op-ed for POLITICO where he advises his fellow Republicans to stop peeing in their beds and be more positive.
State health care agency seeking health care funding alternative
Now that they have rejected an opportunity to cover 400,000 low-income Louisianans with federal Medicaid dollars, legislators are suddenly worried that they’ll get less Medicaid money once the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act takes full effect. So they ordered the state’s health agency to seek special permission from the federal government to draw down additional Medicaid money. The state Department of Health and Hospitals also is seeking permission to loosen the strings on extra payments providers receive for care of the uninsured, who could have had actual health coverage had the administration not rejected Medicaid expansion.
Cost of living in U.S. rises, while prices of food drop
New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics concludes that the cost of living in the United States rose in May, but was restrained by the first drop in food prices in almost four years. The Consumer Price Index increased 0.1 percent last month after dropping 0.4 percent in April. CPI is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. A 0.3 percent increase in the shelter index accounted for more than half of the CPI’s increase in May. The gasoline index remained flat, while the food at home index fell 0.3 percent.
Studies conflict on effects of state tax cuts
A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows there is conflicting data on the correlation between a state’s tax rate and economic prosperity. The CBPP released the report in response to a Tax Foundation claim that academic studies show conclusively that tax cuts at the state level help the economy while state tax increases cause harm. According to the CBPP report, “The Tax Foundation mischaracterized or exaggerated the findings of three of the seven articles it cited, and the conclusions of a fourth article it cited are contradicted by a much more recent paper by the exact same author (which the Tax Foundation failed to include in its review).” In addition, the report continues, the Tax Foundation simply excluded at least 20 articles that did not support or directly contradicted its conclusion.
$7.8 billion – Louisiana’s Medicaid budget from both state and federal sources (Source: The Advocate)
Monday, June 17, 2013
Robert Mann: Gov. Jindal gets what he wants from LSU Supervisors
In his newest Nola.com column, Robert Mann says the members of the LSU Board of Supervisors have surrendered their “independence and self-respect” to receive their board appointments from the governor. Board members have been heavily criticized this year after firing the head of the state’s public hospital system, picking a new university president in secret and approving contracts to privatize the state’s hospitals while missing key pieces of financial information. Mann writes, “It seems they do (the governor’s) bidding about whom to hire and fire. They remain quiet as he decimates the university’s budget. They eagerly comply with his program to relinquish the state’s health care system to corporations. In other words, Jindal says, ‘Jump.’ They respond, ‘Yes, sir!’”
New Orleans area health clinics scramble for funding
A network of health clinics that care for 60,000 New Orleans area residents is in jeopardy if in-state funding is not identified by mid-August to help finance them. The proposed $25 billion state budget in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hands does not contain state funding for the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connections initiative, which provides primary care and mental health services to people in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemine and St. Bernard parishes. Adults with incomes up to 200 percent of poverty ($22,250 for an individual or $38,180 for a family of three) who have been uninsured for six months are eligible for care — with limited cost-sharing based on income. New Orleans health commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo said she is hopeful that in conversations with state officials “we can figure out how to finance it.”
Louisiana public defenders running deficits across the state
A new report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office shows nearly 70 percent of Louisiana’s public defenders offices ran deficits last year, forcing them to dip heavily into fund balances to keep operations afloat. The parishes with shortfalls used available fund balances as a “short-term solution that allowed the continuation of the public defense system during lean economic times. This seriously depleted most of the local districts’ fund balances,” the report says. Louisiana funds the majority of public defense services through a $45 court cost attached to traffic tickets. The rest of public defense funding comes from local or other sources. Last year the state awarded $18.5 million while local parishes contributed $32.2 million for public defense.
Southern University censured by top national organization for professors
The top national organization of university professors voted on Saturday to censure Southern University, saying the school improperly fired tenured professors after declaring a financial emergency in October 2011. . The formal censure by the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, is generally seen as a negative stigma against a school that hampers faculty recruitment and retention. The AAUP is a roughly 40,000-member organization of faculty and other academics focused on ensuring academic freedom.
NY Times Opinion: Schooling ourselves in an unequal America
Rebecca Strauss writes for the New York Times that America’s widening achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is to blame for the country’s declining average standing in global education rankings. Strauss writes, “In short, more money is being spent on wealthy students who have never been more prepared to excel in college. Meanwhile, poorer students who are less prepared — those who a generation ago would not have even enrolled in college — are getting a smaller slice of higher education spending.” Strauss goes on to criticize the Obama administration for setting education funding priorities that disproportionately benefit the wealthy while chronically underfunding programs that benefit poorer students, like Head Start, Title I, IDEA grants, and Pell grants.
70 – The percentage of Louisiana’s public defenders offices that ran deficits last year. (Source: Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office via Associated Press)
Friday, June 14, 2013
Louisiana ranks 49th in percentage of adults with a college degree
A report released Thursday by The Lumina Foundation concludes that Louisiana has a lower proportion of college graduates than any other state except West Virginia. According to the private Indianapolis-based organization, 27.9 percent of Louisiana adults 25 to 64 years old held degrees in 2011, the latest year for which data are available. That figure, which is 0.1 percentage points above West Virginia’s rank, is three points below the 2010 figure of 28.2 percent. In Louisiana, the New Orleans area had the highest proportion of college graduates with 33.7 percent. The Baton Rouge area placed second with 32.7 percent, and Shreveport ranked third with 29.5 percent.
Landrieu to recommend Cazayoux replacement by September
Sen. Mary Landrieu said Thursday she plans to recommend one or more lawyers by September to replace outgoing U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. “I’m not going to rush, but I’m not going to dillydally, either,” Landrieu told The Advocate. “I would imagine within six to 10 weeks … I’ll have a strong recommendation to make to [President Barack Obama].” Cazayoux announced that he will resign July 1 after serving three years as the head federal prosecutor for the Middle District, which includes the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Livingston, Ascension, St. Helena, Iberville and Pointe Coupee.
Republicans plan a retreat to regroup
John Maginnis writes in his weekly newsletter, LaPolitics Weekly, that Republican leaders are planning a retreat to regroup. Some members broke away from the party lines during budget debates: Republican leaders are downplaying discord within their caucus that erupted in a raucous meeting in the last week of the session. More than a few, chiefly among mainline Jindal Republicans, were displeased that the faction of Fiscal Hawks had formed an alliance with the Democratic and Black caucuses, thus providing both with seats at the conference committee table and handing over expensive budget concessions. In a re-unifying effort, a summer retreat is planned for the 58-member majority, according to Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria. “As Republicans, we have to realize we are in control in both houses,” said Harris. “We have to come up with the solutions.”
Today is the deadline to request Crescent City Connection toll tag refunds
Crescent City Connection toll tag accountholders have until the end of the day to request refunds of toll tag deposits. Any unclaimed money will transfer to the state treasury to be handled as unclaimed property. Transportation spokeswoman Bambi Hall said an $8 million balance remains from toll deposits, toll accounts and money collected between Jan. 1 and March 5, when the tolls were suspended. Requests through the transportation department may be made in person at the CCC’s customer service center at 2001 Mardi Gras Blvd., Algiers, by fax, U.S. mail or email at email@example.com.
9.88 – Percentage of adults in St. Helena Parish with college degrees – the lowest in Louisiana. (Source: The Lumina Foundation via Nola.com)
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal signs Medicaid transparency bill
After twice vetoing similar legislation, Gov. Bobby Jindal finally signed into law a bill that increases transparency in two of the state’s Medicaid programs. The law requires the state Department of Health and Hospitals to submit annual reports to the Legislature detailing the members, eligibility and claims of the Bayou Health managed care programs and the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership. Most Medicaid patients in Louisiana access health care through one of Bayou Health’s five privately operated plans. The Behavioral Health Partnership serves Medicaid and non-Medicaid children and adults with severe mental illnesses or addiction issues.
Personal income in Louisiana lags the national average
Louisiana’s personal income per capita grew at a slower rate than the national average in 2011, according to figures released Wednesday by the federal government. Personal income per capita in the state was $36,500 in 2011, up 1.5 percent from 2010 when the figure was $36,000. Nationally, personal income grew 2 percent that year, from $35,800 to $36,500.
Eight state constitutional amendments on the 2014 ballot
Louisiana voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on eight proposed constitutional amendments during the next statewide election in November 2014. Included in this list are proposed amendments that would prohibit lawmakers from introducing legislation relating to tax rebates, incentives and abatements during legislative sessions held in even-numbered years; create a hospital bed tax to draw down more federal Medicaid dollars; and constitutionally protect provider rates for nursing homes, pharmacies and group homes for the developmentally disabled.
U.S. Attorney Donald Cazayoux Jr. will resign in July
U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. will leave his post as the lead federal prosecutor for a nine-parish district based in Baton Rouge on July 1 to join a private law practice in the capital city. The former state legislator and U.S. House member was nominated by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu for the job in May 2009, and he was confirmed a year later. His top accomplishments include the indictment of 69 people through the Baton Rouge Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which resulted in court orders for restitution of more than $32.4 million to Medicare and other agencies.
Students leaving failed RSD schools sent to other failing schools
The Lens reports that the vast majority of students leaving four failing schools closed by the Recovery School District are headed to other failing schools next year. About 77 percent of students transferring from Abramson Elementary and 72 percent of those transferring from James Weldon Johnson Elementary — both given the letter grade F by the state — are headed to schools graded F or T. For students leaving the smaller Murray Henderson Elementary, it’s about 47 percent. T-rated schools are failing schools that have been taken over by a new charter operator; the state gives them two years to improve before they assign a standard letter grade. Students from Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School faired much better — with only 16 percent heading to F or T schools — after receiving preferential treatment from the RSD that helped those students transfer into better schools.
Jindal signs criminal justice bills
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two criminal justice bills into law this week. One bill expands the program that allows some offenders to seek early release based on good behavior, while the second extends certain rights to former inmates looking to adopt children in the state.
8 – The number of proposed state constitutional amendments approved in this year’s legislative session that will be placed on the November 2014 statewide election ballot. (Source: Nola.com)
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Sen. Mary Landrieu: Opportunity to expand Medicaid in LA not completely lost
Despite setbacks in the legislative session, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says she is not giving up on the effort to expand Medicaid in Louisiana. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Lafayette Advertiser, Landrieu blasts Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Legislature for denying coverage to an estimated 400,000 low-income adults. “The Medicaid expansion would have brought $16 billion into Louisiana’s economy, resulting in 15,600 new jobs by 2016 and $1.8 billion in additional economic activity for 2016 alone,” Landrieu wrote. The state’s senior senator questioned the governor’s motivations for opposing expansion, citing a 2008 plan by his administration that would have expanded Medicaid along the same lines that the federal government is now offering.
State Department of Education touts progress despite report on federal grant
A day after the Louisiana Department of Education was criticized for insufficient progress on a $17 million federal grant, the department released its own report praising itself for progress in Louisiana public schools. The state’s report highlights increases in kindergarten readiness, high school graduation rates and third- and eighth-grade pass rates on mathematics and English exams. More notably, the percentage of ninth graders scoring 17 or better on a pre-ACT test called Explore doubled, from an estimated 20 percent in 2010 to 40 percent this spring. “Louisiana has accomplished great things for children over the last year, due to the hard work and dedication of those closest to students, educators and families,” Superintendent John White said, “This report applauds those successes and lays out the state’s plan to continue this type of achievement.”
Most laid-off New Orleans hospital workers offered new jobs
The vast majority of the 1,900 or so workers who are being laid off as part of the privatization of the LSU public hospital in New Orleans will be offered similar jobs by Children’s Hospital, which will manage the new facility. A spokesman for Children’s told The Advocate that 1,900 employees of the Interim LSU Public Hospital applied for jobs, and that 1,800 were offered positions by the new managers.
State Sen. Conrad Appel: Common Core no conspiracy
State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, wrote a letter to The Advocate refuting Tea Party criticism against new Common Core education standards. Conrad writes, “There is considerable misunderstanding regarding Louisiana’s participation in the Common Core State Standards Initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association. It is not a conspiracy of the federal government to take over the educational system and circumvent states’ rights, as some would have you believe. These standards were developed by a voluntary collaborative of 46 states, in an effort to increase student academic performance across the country.”
Report: New Orleans African-American men are an untapped workforce
Loyola University’s Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy released a report Wednesday concluding that African-American men in New Orleans are an untapped resource. Black men account for 26 percent of the city’s population that is able to work, but their employment rate was only 48 percent in 2011. Annual salaries for black men have fallen 11 percent since 2000, down to $31,018, compared to salaries for their white counterparts rising 9 percent to an average of $60,075 during that period. “If New Orleans is to substantially reverse decades of economic decline, high crime rates, and a shrinking city tax base, then greater educational attainment and economic progress for African-American men will be critical,” the report concludes.
Jefferson Parish hospitals may risk default in five years or less
Hospital executives for Jefferson Parish’s two public hospitals say the facilities are at risk of violating their debt terms in five years or less. The hospitals have regularly tapped their cash reserves in recent years to stay afloat as their income fell and costs rose. East Jefferson General Hospital’s savings have fallen by 40 percent since 2004, while West Jefferson Medical Center has used up a quarter of its savings, according to hospital figures. Defaulting could downgrade the hospitals’ bonds by rating agencies, hurting their finances, at the very least. At worst, bondholders could force the hospitals to adopt drastic cost-cutting measures or sell assets to pay the bonds.
63 to 75 percent – The percent of income for Louisiana residents 50 years of age or older that is made up by Social Security. (Source: AARP via The Advocate)
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Louisiana’s progress on K-12 schools is insufficient on $17 million grant
Louisiana officials were so busy setting up a statewide voucher program and making other, sweeping changes to the state K-12 education system that they neglected to make the improvements they promised the federal government in exchange for an $18 million federal grant. As Nola.com reports, Louisiana got the grant as a “consolation prize” after falling short in the 2010 “Race to the Top” competition for federal dollars. But an evaluation of the first year of the program found that Louisiana’s progress was delayed “because of new state leadership and the need to align the Race to the Top plan with other statewide reform efforts.”
Grace: Was 2013 session the beginning of the end for Gov. Jindal?
New Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace says the 2013 session was a “spectacular failure” for Gov. Bobby Jindal, and wonders if the governor – who turned 42 on Monday – will ever again enjoy the same influence with the Legislature that allowed him to muscle through his historic education package last year. “It’s entirely normal for a governor to lose some sway at this point in his tenure, but Jindal’s approach probably accelerated things. By pursuing a policy so nakedly designed to pad his résumé rather than bolster the state, he made it easy for lawmakers to say, thanks, but no thanks,” she writes.
NYT columnist calls for class-based affirmative action
With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to overturn racial preferences in college admissions, former New York editor Bill Keller makes the case for a new system of affirmative action based on class. “Economic inequality is increasingly recognized as an even greater menace to our national well-being than racial discrimination,” Keller writes. “Huge and growing disparities of wealth contribute to a shift of political power from the many to the privileged few, retard economic growth and productivity, and undermine the values we profess. So affirmative action that puts poor and working-class students on the on-ramp to success is good for our economy, legitimizing for our democracy and consistent with our values. Racism is still a toxic reality in our country. But the gulf between the wealthy and the poor is wider and even more socially corrosive than the gap between black and white.”
New laws for college scholarships, college testing and community colleges
Jindal signed three education bills into law on Monday that change higher education scholarship eligibility, college testing rules and the Baton Rouge-area community and technical college system. House Bill 343 prohibits schools from administering any LEAP tests, or college exams, such as the ACT, to students with disabilities who are not pursuing a regular high school diploma. Senate Bill 45 merges four technical colleges in Baton Rouge with Baton Rouge Community College, which will bring in an additional $7 million in tuition and fees over five years. And House Bill 243 enacts a small change to the TOPS program to include international baccalaureate, or IB, students.
State auditor raises concerns with higher education evaluation tool
A new report by the Louisiana legislative auditor found inconsistencies in the data used to calculate how well individual colleges meet goals that are necessary for permission to raise their tuitions. The 91-page review found, in some instances, the data submitted did not properly classify students, which could throw off the calculations of GRAD Act requirements. The audit found only four of 16 community and technical colleges submitted data that was sufficiently reliable to lead to rising tuition.
U.S. Senate passes Farm Bill with tougher food stamp bans
The U.S. Senate passed a $500 billion farm bill Monday that includes Sen. David Vitter’s amendment to bar food stamps from people previously convicted of murder, pedophilia and violent sexual assault. Critics say the Vitter amendment wrongfully denies food stamps to low-income Americans who have served their time. Sen. Mary Landrieu also tried to amend the farm bill to delay for three years changes in the federal flood insurance program that could result in substantial premium increases for some policyholders. Her amendment did not receive a vote. The Senate’s version of the farm bill continues the price support program for sugar and boosts subsidies to help southern rice and peanut farmers purchase crop insurance.
Federal flood insurance rates increase by 20 percent for some Louisiana residentsThe Federal Emergency Management Agency unveiled its new flood maps last week, placing more than 1,100 residents and business owners in Iberville Parish in designated flood zones. The reconfigured maps are part of Congress’ reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program. If the program is reauthorized, it could mean flood insurance rate hikes of 20 percent or more annually for the nearly 500,000 people in the state participating in the federally funded program. The parish has until Nov. 6 to adopt the new flood elevation maps and regulations if it wants to continue participating in the federal insurance program.
32 – The percentage of Baton Rouge residents who cannot afford health care (Source: Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s 2013 City Stats)
Monday, June 10, 2013
Civil Service Commission kills 3,000 jobs
An estimated 3,000 state workers will lose their jobs in the public hospital system after the state Civil Service Commission voted 3-2 to approve a layoff plan that had been voted down last week. The layoffs are part of a plan being pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal to privatize the operations of Louisiana’s unique statewide network of public hospitals.
Critics: Legislative session lacked true reform
While legislators were in a celebratory mood last week after passing a budget that differed slightly from the one proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the state’s two largest newspapers were less impressed by the just-concluded session. “There were no sweeping reforms, no big ideas turned into policy, no legislative initiatives that will dramatically improve the lives of Louisianians” Nola.com wrote in its lead Sunday editorial, citing the failure of Medicaid expansion as one of the spring’s biggest disappointments. The Advocate took a similar view. “The State Capitol this year was a scene of a skirmish, not a revolution,” it concluded.
Gannett’s Mike Hasten, meanwhile, counters the Capitol’s conventional wisdom that says Jindal was a big loser this session because he was absent for much of the debate and the Legislature showed a smidgen of independence. Hasten, with help from an observant reader, concludes that the governor got just about everything he wanted from the session after his ill-conceived tax plan was jettisoned on opening day.
Similar thoughts were voiced by The Advocate’s Mark Ballard, who noted that Jindal had virtually no agenda after the tax bills were spiked but still managed to chalk up some victories. “Jindal spiked a popular tax increase on smokers, killed necessary efforts to reign in TOPS, stopped a lucrative Medicaid expansion, derailed a move to make his government’s records more transparent and kept legislators from eliminating the same tax credits he wanted to dump a few weeks earlier,” Ballard writes.
Education overhaul slows down in legislative session
In stark contrast to the 2012 Legislative session, a wide range of education reform bills failed to receive legislative approval this year. Major failed initiatives include a push to delay Louisiana’s new teacher evaluations, a bid to block tougher rules for how the state will grade public high schools this fall, and a relatively noncontroversial bill to spell out details of revamped early childhood programs. A bill that would ban sanctions on teachers until their evaluations are complete and a push to let voters pick a state superintendent of education died as well. Legislators did manage to find an extra $69 million for public schools and money to cover an increase in the private-school voucher program.
Robert Mann: GOP should stop making it harder for minorities to vote
Guillory’s switch to the Republican Party was announced during the party’s @large conference, a two-day event where speakers discussed ways to lure more blacks to the GOP and to encourage more of them to seek elected office. But Nola.com columnist Robert Mann writes that the conference was a waste of time and offers advice on how Republicans can attract black voters. “Perhaps the Republican Party could stop trying to make it harder for the poor and minorities to vote.” You can read more from Mann’s column here.
Unemployment still too high despite recent gains
While the U.S. economy continues its upward momentum with Friday’s report that showed 176,000 new jobs were added in May, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wishes policymakers were less worried about deficits and showed more concern about the millions of Americans who are still without work. “Why isn’t reducing unemployment a major policy priority?” Krugman writes. “One answer may be that inertia is a powerful force, and it’s hard to get policy changes absent the threat of disaster. As long as we’re adding jobs, not losing them, and unemployment is basically stable or falling, not rising, policy makers don’t feel any urgent need to act.”
$80 million to $100 million – The amount of one-time money inserted into the final version of the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2013. (Source: The Advocate)
Friday, June 7, 2013
The 2013 session: Legislature stands up; governor plays defense
The Legislature wrapped up its business Thursday by approving a compromise budget plan that includes new money for teachers, some modest revenue-raising measures and reshuffling of spending to reduce the state’s reliance on one-time dollars for recurring expenses.
The morning-after coverage includes a Nola.com report about Gov. Bobby Jindal, who spent most of the session defending his past gains or watching from the sidelines as lawmakers took control of major policy debates. The shift toward legislative independence began when lawmakers opposed and defeated the largest item on Jindal’s policy agenda — a tax shift plan that would harm working families and most businesses — and continued all the way through the passage of the state budget in the last few hours of the regular session. The governor, meanwhile, cited the effort to deny basic health coverage to 400,000 low-income adults as one of his major successes of the session.
Over at The Lens, Tyler Bridges looks at the conservative Fiscal Hawks, who emerged as a powerful coalition with enough strength to force Jindal and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, to accept key changes in how the state will spend its money next year and years to come. Much of the hawks’ success sprung from their ability to form key alliances with about 40 House Democrats, giving them a working majority in the 105-member House. “This year has been a giant step forward. … While we didn’t get everything we wanted, it positions us to accomplish the rest of our goals in the next year or two,” Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a leader of the coalition, told the online news site.
A statement by the Louisiana Budget Project praises the last-minute boost to education but laments the lost opportunity to address Louisiana’s long-term structural deficit.
The Advocate’s coverage includes a round-up story; and a sidebar about the education money. Public school teachers, who’ve gone without a raise for four years, will get an additional $11.11 per week before taxes.
Barfield confirmed as Revenue secretary
The Senate quietly confirmed Tim Barfield as secretary of the state Department of Revenue at a salary that’s twice what his predecessor was paid. Barfield, who was brought in to be the chief architect of the governor’s failed tax shift proposal, served as executive counsel of the department until the secretary’s salary could be raised in state law.
$1 million fraud case evidence of state department’s lack of controls
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office says a lack of control over incoming mail and fund transfers in the state Department of Health and Hospitals allowed a former agency accountant to defraud the state’s Medicaid program of more than $1 million. The former employee diverted at least $1,058,446 to a private bank account for personal use between March 27, 2007 and Feb. 1, 2013. The state auditor found that the majority of redirected checks were sent to and received by DHH’s Payment Management section. “These checks were not copied, logged, or restrictively endorsed upon receipt by the Payment Management section,” the auditor’s report said.
National economy adds 175,000 jobs in May; unemployment rate at 7.6 percent
U.S. employment grew by 175,000 jobs in May, while the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 7.6 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Industries with the largest new employment include professional and business services, food services and drinking places, and retail trade. The number of unemployed persons across the nation, 11.8 million, was essentially unchanged between April and May. The average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 46 cents over the past year to $23.89.
Louisiana growth slower than U.S. and Southeast averages
A report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis concludes that the gross domestic product of Louisiana grew at a slower rate than the U.S. and Southeastern average in 2012. Louisiana GDP’s increased by 1.5 in 2012, compared to a 2.5 percent increase nationally and a 2.1 increase for the Southeast. The figures for 2011 were also revised and showed that Louisiana’s economy actually shrank by 2.6 percent that year – the worst economic performance among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
$198.5 billion – Louisiana’s gross domestic product in 2012. (Source: The Advocate)
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Legislators reach budget deal in last day of session
With just hours to spare before the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment at 6 p.m. today, House and Senate leaders announced a compromise on the state budget. According to Nola.com, “The final version of the $25 billion spending plan includes a pay increase for teachers and additional funding for school districts, a pair of bills aimed at overhauling the state’s budget process in future years and a series of measures increasing revenues through trimming tax breaks and instituting a temporary tax amnesty.” The deal appears to end any threat of a special session, though some legislators were reportedly rankled after Gov. Bobby Jindal called an early evening news conference to announce a deal that he had little role in crafting. The plan still needs approval from rank-and-file lawmakers in both chambers, but that’s expected to be a formality.
State budget remains inadequate
The Advocate Editorial Board criticized lawmakers for not adequately plugging holes in the state budget. According to the editorial, “Even if the revenues come in as projected — a grab-bag of direct taxes, fees and numerous one-time expedients on spending — the patched-together nature of the budget inspires little confidence in the orderly operation of state government.” LBP has pointed out in the past that state funding for higher education is at its lowest since the 1950s and that reforming tax exemptions would eliminate some of the need for a patchwork of one-time money and budget gimmicks.
LSU hospital layoffs denied by Civil Service Panel
The state Civil Service Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to reject 3,000 employee layoffs tied to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to privatize public hospitals. The commission cited a lack of information from LSU about the layoffs in its decision. The layoffs were set to take effect June 24. LSU has said it will provide further information, and once it does the commission is likely to reverse its decision.
Nearly half of America’s elderly are “economically vulnerable”
A new report finds that nearly half of America’s elderly population would be hard hit by even modest reductions in Social Security and Medicare programs. The report by the Economic Policy Institute found that 48 percent of the elderly population — including 63.5 percent of black seniors and 70 percent of hispanics — earn less than twice the “supplemental poverty line.” This measure is different from the traditional poverty threshold because it accounts for regional differences in cost of living.
U.S. House moves to block flood insurance rate hikes
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment that would prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from raising flood insurance rates on policyholders who have been remapped into a “below base flood elevation” status. The bill still needs to pass the Senate to become law. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who sponsored the amendment, said the increased rates would make flood insurance unaffordable for some residents.
$68 million – the amount added to the state’s school funding formula by the proposed budget, half of which would go toward raises for teachers. (Source: Nola.com)
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Budget negotiations inch toward compromise
With only two days left to wrap up their work on the state budget or face a special session, legislative leaders traded offers on Tuesday and appeared to get closer to a compromise. But the House and Senate have yet to agree on the amount of “one-time” money that should be included in the deal, or how to deal with a set of proposed reforms to the budget process sought by conservative “fiscal hawks” in the House. One thing that seems certain is that public school teachers will get some sort of raise — but whether it comes in the form of a one-time bonus or because money is added to the Minimum Foundation Program funding formula is yet to be decided. House leaders took the unusual step of appointing six members to the conference committee that is working on the deal — twice the traditional three — to ensure that the Legislative Black Caucus and the fiscal hawks are represented in the negotiations.
Yet another reason why Medicaid expansion is a good idea
A new study in the journal Health Affairs affirms what LBP and others have been saying for months: States that refuse to take advantage of Medicaid expansion are making a huge mistake. How huge? The 14 states that have turned away this opportunity will lose out on a combined $8.4 billion in federal payment through 2016, be forced to spend an additional $1 billion on uncompensated care and have 3.6 million more citizens uninsured than had they chosen to accept expansion. As Ezra Klein wrote in The Washington Post: So then, the math works out like this: States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point.
Ohio Gov says the Gipper would support Medicaid expansion
Conservative icon Ronald Reagan oversaw several expansions of the Medicaid program as president, and the change brought positive results for vulnerable people in Ohio and elsewhere. That’s the word from current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a staunch conservative who has put political considerations aside and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to expand coverage using federal dollars. Kasich makes the case in USA Today: For example, in 1986, President Reagan let states add poor children and pregnant women to Medicaid. And after learning that disabled children could receive Medicaid care only in hospitals and nursing homes, he let states provide them care at home also. Ohio resisted both expansions for a decade but saw powerful results for some of our most vulnerable citizens once we made them.
College gets more expensive in Louisiana
The cost of going to college in Louisiana would rise by $48 per semester under a bill that heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk for a signature or veto. House Bill 671 creates a new fee that would be used for campus maintenance. Fees also are going up on LSU dental students in New Orleans, while people who enroll in LSU’s digital master’s program will pay an extra $2,500 per semester. The extra digital fee was sought by EA Sports and other video game companies that hire the program’s graduates.
LSU hospital transition continues
The rapid transformation of the state hospital system continued Tuesday when the House agreed to close inpatient beds at W.O. Moss Regional Medical Center in Lake Charles. The lower chamber voted 65-27 to close the beds and transfer the inpatient services to a nearby community hospital, leaving Moss as an outpatient clinic. The move comes as the state is pursuing partnership agreements that will put all but one of the 10 state hospitals under private management this year.
$5,000,000 – Amount the state is contractually obligated to pay the New Orleans Saints by June 30 because the Super Bowl was played in the Crescent City this year. Source: Legislative Fiscal Office.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Budget negotiations at critical juncture
With three days left before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn, budget negotiations between the House and Senate are at a critical juncture. With the Senate having put its imprint on the $25 billion spending plan over the weekend, the focus now shifts back to the House. Conservative fiscal hawks and progressive-minded Democrats, who came together last month to craft a compromise package that the Senate dismantled, have each found things to dislike about the plan. While the hawks are angry about the Senate’s inclusion of one-time money, Democrats are insisting on more support for public schools after money was added for the governor’s voucher program. Largely absent from the debate is Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has maintained a hands-off approach since his tax-shift gambit collapsed on the opening week of the session.
Senate approves ancillary budget bills
As behind-the-scenes negotiations continue on the main parts of the budget deal, the Senate on Monday passed several smaller bills that are part of the bigger spending picture. Senators agreed to a series of revenue-raising measures including a bill that trims the state’s lucrative solar energy tax credit and another that trims the Enterprise Zone tax credit for retailers. A third revenue bill would save money by reducing the rebates paid to retailers for collecting state sales taxes. While the money raised by the bills would be a tiny trickle in the overall revenue stream, it represents a breakthrough of sorts in an era when the governor has refused all attempts to raise money and equates corporate subsidy programs with tax increases.
Current-year budget also in flux
A final piece of the budget puzzle that’s causing friction between the House and Senate is a supplemental spending bill for the current year. The version that passed the Senate on Monday uses $113 million in surplus funding from last year’s budget to plug a deficit in the current-year Medicaid budget. But House fiscal hawks, citing a deal made last year that is now part of state law, say the surplus money has to be used to replenish the state’s rainy-day fund. Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said last year’s deal needs to be reconsidered because Congress cut Louisiana’s Medicaid allotment, which has forced deep cuts to health services.
Breakaway school district on life-support
Plans to create a breakaway school district in suburban Baton Rouge appear to be dead for the session after a scheduled debate in the House was postponed on Monday. The proposed new district would include 10 schools, and about 7,100 students, in South Baton Rouge. It has sparked fierce resistance from the East Baton Rouge Parish School System and area lawmakers, who said it would drain resources from the schools that would be left behind while restricting the talent pool for magnet schools and gifted programs. While the idea has majority support in both chambers, it requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass the House and appears to be short of the necessary votes.
38: Consecutive months of growth in private-sector employment. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
Monday, June 3, 2013
Budget negotiations hit the home stretch
The Louisiana Senate approved a $25 billion budget Saturday that conflicts with an earlier version approved by the House, setting the stage for a busy week before session ends at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Senate retained several elements from the House plan, including a temporary tax amnesty program and reductions in tax credits. But the Senate’s decision to restore $272 million in non-recurring money to the budget will likely cause a major rift between the two chambers after the House spent weeks earlier this year negotiating a deal to remove $525 million in one-time money from the spending plan. The Senate’s plan includes more money for higher education, a program for the developmentally disabled and $50 million for a one-time teacher bonus.
Initial reaction in the House to Senate budget is negative
The Senate’s changes got a cool reception from House leaders, who said they would urge rejection of the Senate version. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said the House will likely vote on the Senate’s changes Tuesday. If the House rejects the Senate’s changes, House Bill 1 would go to a compromise committee where leaders in both chambers can try to negotiate a deal before adjournment to avoid a special session.
House rejects spending plan for current fiscal year; approves funding dedication
The House held a rare meeting Sunday, where members spent more than an hour wrangling over a supplemental spending bill for the current fiscal year before voting it down. The rejection of House Bill 677 came after lawmakers defied the Jindal administration by tacking on an amendment that added $68 million for public schools, which would have provided raises for teachers and school employees. The bill’s defeat adds to the long list of uncertainties facing legislators as they rush toward adjournment. House members approved the Senate’s changes to House Bill 533, which limits cuts that could be made to rates paid to nursing homes, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals that provide care for Medicaid patients. HB 533 is a constitutional amendment that must go before voters in a statewide election for final approval.
Senate approves “parent-trigger” bill for failing RSD schools
The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Saturday that would set up a “parent trigger” law for poor-performing schools in the Recovery School District. House Bill 115, by state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, would let parents petition the state-run Recovery School District to return a school back to local control if that school has earned a “D” or “F” grade from the state for five consecutive years. The state Department of Education currently operates 80 schools around the state through the RSD, including 68 in New Orleans and eight in Baton Rouge. The bill now returns to the House for approval of Senate changes.
New York Times: Medicaid, pensions cloud state budgets
While many states (Louisiana being a notable exception) have seen their financial picture improve as the Great Recession fades into the history books, they still face daunting challenges in the coming years as the cost of health care continues to rise and the bill comes due for state employee pensions, the New York Times reports: “Medicaid was the biggest single component of total state spending this year, the most recent survey of states found: states were planning to spend 23.9 percent of their money on Medicaid — more than the 19.8 percent they were planning to spend on primary and secondary education, and more than what they planned to spend on higher education and transportation combined. Many states put off needed road maintenance during the downturn.”
The Paper of Record also began an occasional series that tries to explain why America spends more money on health-care than any country in the history of civilization, with middling results. One reason: Health-care providers charge exorbitant prices for routine procedures. Sunday’s installment looks at the cost of colonoscopies, which cost more in America than just about anywhere else, in part because anesthesiologists have found a way to cut themselves in on the action.
$272 million – The amount of non-recurring money restored to the state budget by the state Senate. (Source: Nola.com)