The Daily Dime: March 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 davidgray@lano.org.

Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Advocate editorial board described Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax shift proposal as “a nonstarter” and warned the governor’s plan shifts burdens away from the prosperous and toward the struggling. The editorial board wrote, “We oppose the ‘swap,’ because the losers appear to be many local businesses, as well as the folks at the working end of the class structure. The winners are the higher-end taxpayers in Louisiana and the corporate interests outside of the state that Jindal has so often catered to.

Jindal is trying to insure himself against a possible unfavorable court ruling by refilling last year’s four-part education overhaul legislation as four separate items. Baton Rouge Judge R. Michael Caldwell struck down Act 1, the law creating the first half of Jindal’s two-part education overhaul that passed in 2012, because it violated the “single object rule” by having too many disparate parts. Jindal hopes breaking last year’s bill into multiple bills and re-passing them during the upcoming legislative session will serve as a backup plan in case the state Supreme Court upholds Caldwell’s previous ruling.

State officials will deny an alternative fuel tax credit to 3,000 Louisianans after the program was suspended last year. While the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that the credit would cost a modest $200,000 annually, the program was on track to cost $100 million this fiscal year after former Department of Revenue secretary Cynthia Bridges allowed owners of flex fuel vehicles to claim the tax credit. The state already dispersed $7.6 million in credits involving flex fuel vehicles between April 30 and June 14. About $9 million in claims were pending when the governor repealed the credit.

The Louisiana Department of Education announced about 7,100 new students have applied for public school vouchers, which allows disadvantaged students in low-performing schools to attend certain private and parochial schools at taxpayer expense. The state’s ability to legally fund the program is still unknown, however, as Act 2, the law authorizing the voucher program, is being considered by the Supreme Court. Baton Rouge District Judge Tim Kelley ruled last November that the current funding mechanism unconstitutionally diverts public education money to private schools.

Total personal income in Louisiana grew at a slower rate than the United States average during the fourth quarter, according to a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report released Wednesday. Ranked 42nd out of the 50 states, total personal income in Louisiana was $183.9 billion during the fourth quarter, an increase of 1.7 percent from the third quarter. That’s slightly less than the 1.9 percent growth nationwide in total personal income, and it’s less than the 1.9 percent average for Southeastern states in the BEA report.

Former New Orleans state Rep. Sherman Copelin Jr. was arrested in Jefferson Parish Wednesday, accused of mismanaging millions of dollars in federal disaster relief money. The former speaker pro tem of the state House of Representatives surrendered to Jefferson Parish Sheriff officers on his own after a warrant was issued. The warrant claims Copelin mismanaged nearly $2 million in disaster relief funds dedicated to rebuilding the Westbank Christian Center, a private school that operated on Lapalco Boulevard in Harvey.

The LSU Board of Supervisors was busy Wednesday. The board voted unanimously to install F. King Alexander as LSU’s system president. The vote was mostly a formality after the board named Alexander its sole finalist for the position late last week. Alexander’s selection follows a secretive search process launched in the fall, in which LSU discussed candidates behind closed doors and refused to publicly acknowledge any of the people under consideration.

The LSU Board of Supervisors also cleared the way for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center to take over LSU outpatient clinic operations in Baton Rouge. Our Lady of the Lake will pay at least $3.8 million annually to lease three clinics and a surgery center and associated equipment, and the state health agency has set a $60 million cap on payments to Our Lady of the Lake for clinic operations. Our Lady of the Lake will become home to inpatient care and medical education programs currently located at LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center, which is scheduled to close its doors in north Baton Rouge on April 15.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, announced Wednesday that Congress approved $107 million in new federal recovery grants for Hurricane Isaac. The funding, which was approved as part of the Hurricane Sandy supplemental funding passed by Congress earlier this year, will largely go to Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany Parish and Orleans Parish. It can be used for recovery efforts involving housing, economic development, infrastructure and prevention of further damage to affected areas.

3,000 – The number of Louisianans who will not receive an alternative fuel tax credit following the governor’s decision to rescind the rule in December (Source: thenewsstar.com)

 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Breaking this morning: Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) president Dan Juneau said the organization will oppose Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax proposal if it raises taxes on businesses. “LABI’s policy is clear: If the tax swap proposal is introduced as a net increase in business taxes or is amended during the legislative process to take that form, LABI will oppose it.” You can read more by clicking here.

Louisiana Department of Revenue executive counsel Tim Barfield acknowledged before the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax proposal shifts at least $500 million in taxes from residents to businesses. Barfield said roughly 80 percent of the new sales tax on services would be paid by businesses. Despite the increased tax burden, Assistant Revenue Secretary Jason Decuir suggested businesses will still relocate to Louisiana because “executives will be relieved of the income tax burden,” giving those who decide where to locate a company a personal interest in moving to Louisiana.

As Barfield revealed the significantly higher costs on businesses, a new report by the Beacon Hill Institute and Pelican Institute, a pair of conservative think tanks, showed the governor’s plan will lower wages and increase the price of goods. According to Nola.com, Beacon Hill Director of Research Paul Bachman said the governor’s proposal to eliminate income taxes will allow businesses to lower wages or forego raises while still providing their employees with the same take-home pay. Bachman also noted that the price of goods for consumers would increase because of the additional costs businesses will bear from the new taxes

A new analysis by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals shows that accepting federal Medicaid expansion would likely save Louisiana millions in 2014 and possibly for years beyond that. The health department’s report projects the 10-year cost of new coverage and administrating the program would come to between $1.14 billion and $1.39 billion. But the state could save between $1.35 billion and $1.57 billion over the same time frame, making Medicaid expansion a break-even proposition for the state budget — if not a source of net savings.

The DHH findings are similar to those in a February report by the Louisiana Budget Project, which also found that Louisiana could expand its Medicaid program to cover up to 400,000 low-income adults at little or no cost to state taxpayers.

Secretary of DHH Bruce Greenstein skipped a legislative hearing Tuesday regarding his agency’s proposed $8.87 billion budget, a few days after The Advocate reported a federal probe into the $185 million-plus contract of a Medicaid claims processing contract which was given to one of his former employers. DHH spokeswoman Kathleen Meyers said Greenstein missed the meeting because of an undisclosed family engagement, even though the meeting had been scheduled for four weeks.

Television network giant CBS is seeking a $700,000 tax credit from Louisiana for broadcasting “The Talk,” a popular daytime chat show, in New Orleans during Super Bowl week. CBS is applying to recoup one-third of the money it says it spent for “The Talk” under the state’s Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit. CBS is eligible for the tax credit – despite the fact that the network giant would have aired in New Orleans for Super Bowl week even if the credit wasn’t available. Once approved, CBS’s credit will be deducted from other taxes owed the state, sold into the tax-credit market at 85 cents on the dollar, or sold back to the state for cash.

$500 million – The minimum shift of taxes from residents to businesses under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax proposal. (Source: Nola.com)

 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
State Treasurer John Kennedy wants the people to vote on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax proposal instead of vetting it only with legislators, according to the Advocate. “Just about every taxpayer will look at it and say, ‘There’s parts I like. There’s parts I don’t like,’” Kennedy said. “So let people vote.” The Jindal administration disagreed with Kennedy, however, commenting that the plan will not go before voters since it does not involve any constitutional amendments.

The governor’s proposal is also receiving pushback for recommending eliminating the Second Amendment sales tax holiday, which provides an exemption from state and local sales and use taxes on individuals’ purchases of firearms, ammunition and hunting supplies on the first Friday through Sunday each September. While many are concerned that removing the tax break is likely to hurt sporting-goods retailers, the Department of Revenue says removal of the Second-Amendment sales-tax holiday would generate $600,000 for the state.

Dayne Sherman, a Ponchatoula librarian, wrote a letter to the Advocate supporting the open letter signed by a diverse group of 250 ministers stating various concerns with the governor’s tax plan. Sherman also said that the governor “cares nothing about the Christianity he professes” and urges other Louisianans to fight the tax proposal.

There was some good news on the tax front yesterday, as the U.S. Senate signaled support for requiring large Internet merchants to collect sales taxes. The Marketplace Fairness Act authorizes states and localities to require “remote sellers” with more than $1 million in nationwide sales annually to collect and remit their sales taxes. Approval of the measure that could bring $400 million new revenues to Louisiana in the next fiscal year and help local retailers become more competitive with their and online competitors.

A group of Republican state representatives claim that Jindal is trying to oust the state’s higher education chief for speaking out against the governor’s proposed budget. The legislators, led by state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, claim that Jindal recently sent Deputy Chief of Staff Taylor Teepell to talk to members of the Louisiana Board of Regents about having Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell fired.

State Representative John Schroder, R-Covington, says he wants to hear directly from state employees about how to make government more efficient. Schroder, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said input from state workers is paramount in correcting the state’s financial problems. “These are the people who are doing the job. No one could possibly give us more insight than them.”

A new report by the Legislative Auditor concluded that Interim LSU Public Hospital in New Orleans did not confirm patients were eligible for a federally-funded HIV program for low-income individuals and families – putting the Department of Health and Hospitals at risk for owing the federal government $67,000 in questioned costs. The federally-funded HIV Care Grants Program is open to HIV-positive Louisianans without third party medication coverage who can demonstrate their income is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level – $34,470 for one person and $70,650 for a family of four.

Bill Watch: Senate Bill 41, filed by Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, calls for a constitutional amendment that would require the statewide election of the education superintendent. The department is currently headed by Superintendent John White, who was appointed by the governor in January 2012.

$600,000  – The estimated savings to the state from repealing the Second Amendment sales-tax holiday.  (Source: Nola.com)

 

Monday, March 25, 2013
It has not been a good few days for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax-shift proposal. After a week that saw the plan attacked by a statewide coalition of ministers and two public-interest research groups, the normally pro-Jindal Times-Picayune. “Whether you ask advocates for poor residents, real estate developers or tourism executives, they say essentially the same thing,” the paper wrote. “The governor’s tax changes would be a burden to families and harmful to the economy, particularly in New Orleans where tourism dollars are vital.

In the same paper, columnist James Gill questioned the governor’s logic of raising business taxes as a way of spurring business investment. “We have puzzled for years over how to make Louisiana more attractive to business,” Gill writes, “and at last we have found the secret. We must make companies pay more in taxes. Then they’ll come running. That is the insight behind Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed overhaul of the tax system.”

Religious leaders from across Louisiana also attacked the governor’s proposal Friday, noting that the administration’s math is deeply flawed. It turns out that estimates showing that most wage earners would get a net gain from swapping income taxes for higher sales taxes did not even include the cost of adding that sales tax to services such as car repairs, landscaping services and haircuts. When that “base-broadening” is included, it’s likely many wage earners and retirees will pay more under the Jindal plan than they do under the current tax code.

Meanwhile, The Advocate editorial board did note that the proposal’s plans to restructure and reduce the state’s movie tax credits and Enterprise Zone program deserve consideration. Film tax breaks are widely criticized for not generating significant returns-on-investment for the state, while the Enterprise Zone program currently offers tax incentives for retailers and other businesses that don’t generate new jobs. According to the editorial board, “If Jindal’s discussions this year yield anything, it is, we hope, that the perpetual subsidies ought to get term-limited — and firmly.”

The Advocate editorial board became the latest Louisiana newspaper to urge Gov. Bobby Jindal to accept federal dollars for expanding Medicaid. The newspaper says expanding the Medicaid program to cover 400,000 low-income adults is the right thing to do from a moral and financial standpoint: “Costs in this population will only grow if people don’t have a Medicaid card and thus put off the minor treatments or prescriptions that could avert more-serious conditions in the future. Preventive medicine, perhaps through the Bayou Health managed care pushed by Jindal, is not free, but with the new Medicaid expansion plan would be more likely to help avoid future costs.”

Tom Aswell of Louisiana Voice says the Department of Health and Hospitals is running out of time to get federal approval for its plan to privatize the LSU charity hospital system.  Aswell says the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent the health department a list of questions about the transition in January, and has yet to hear back. But Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein has told legislators that the privatization plan will pass federal muster.

50 – The percent increase of LSU tuition costs for students since 2008 (Source: LBP)

 

Friday, March 22, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration cut ties Thursday with a company that processes the state’s Medicaid claims, just hours after the Advocate broke the news that a federal grand jury is gathering evidence about how the contract was awarded. Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein once worked as an executive with CNSI, which won the $185 million contract in 2011. But Greenstein recused himself from the bidding process.

A new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report concludes that state personal income tax cuts are a poor strategy for economic growth. States that passed major income tax cuts in the 2000s were as likely to lose economic ground as to gain it during the ensuing decade. The tax-cutting states that did experience growth were all major oil-producing states that benefitted from a sharp rise in oil prices in the years after they implemented their tax cuts. The report also finds that states with the biggest 1990s tax cuts had slower job growth and income growth rates than other states.

The Lens reports that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has not provided legislators or the public with enough information on the losers under his tax shift plan. Although the governor’s point man on the tax shift recently acknowledged that businesses would pay more under the plan, estimates of the plan’s impact on poor and working families don’t account for things like increased cigarette taxes or sales taxes that are passed along to customers.

Retired health care lobbyist Sandra Adams says the governor’s support for more “choice” in education should extend to health care as well. Adams says accepting the Medicaid expansion will provide that choice to the working poor and uninsured, instead of forcing them to seek care in the public hospital system that is reeling from deep cuts. “We may have no alternative but to expand Medicaid down the road, but we will have lost the benefit of the first three years at no cost,” Adams writes.

Louisiana will pay more for bonds for the repairs and construction of privatized LSU public hospitals. That’s because bonds issued for LSU hospitals and clinics slated to be managed by private hospital operators no longer meet the requirements for tax-exempt status by the IRS. The State Bond Commission approved $56 million in taxable borrowing Thursday, and the repayment of those bonds will cost the state $13 million more than if the bonds were tax exempt.

LSU professor and political historian Robert Mann had some pointed remarks about the process used to select LSU’s new president. Mann criticized the committee’s closed-door selection process, and questioned whether the committee attempted to recruit minority candidates. Regarding the new president, Mann said, “If he speaks truth to power, it’s clear he won’t be here for long. If he doesn’t assert his independence or if he refrains from speaking inconvenient truths, then I’m sure the LSU board and Jindal’s aides will love him.

The Advocate’s editorial board also weighed in on the secretive selection process: “Secretive searches, perversely touted as a ‘best practice’ by many of their advocates, cannot possibly be considered the best option for a public institution, supported by tax dollars, created to support a public mission. In shielding themselves from public scrutiny, LSU officials are denying the public that LSU is supposed to serve a seat at the table.”

$185 million – The value of a Medicaid processing contract between the Jindal administration and CNSI that is under federal investigation because CNSI formerly employed Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein. (Source: The Advocate)

 

Thursday, March 21, 2013
A new commentary by the Public Affairs Research Council
says the governor’s tax-shift plan isn’t neutral, as the administration claims, but falls between $500 million and $650 million short of that goal. The plan underestimates revenue loss from tax cuts and overestimates how much revenue the state would gain by raising and broadening the sales tax. The nonpartisan research group says the administration must provide more information on how subsidy programs for low-income and fixed income residents “would identify and make payments to the people negatively affected by the tax swap and whether some low-income people would fall through the gaps of this new government safety net.”

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, sent an open letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy requesting specific details about the state income tax. Unfortunately for Carmody, Kennedy has nothing to do with any of the state’s taxes. Rather, Carmody’s letter should have gone to LA Department of Revenue Executive Counsel Tim Barfield.

A group of Republican lawmakers coined the “Fiscal Hawks” are continuing to criticize Jindal’s budget practices, specifically his use of one-time money to plug ongoing shortfalls. The hawks have asked a state judge to determine whether use of one time funding is unconstitutional, and blame nonrecurring funds for the budget shortfalls that have plagued the state since 2009. .

A Gambit editorial by freelance journalist Jeremy Alford compares Jindal’s relationship with Republicans and the Fiscal Hawks to Julius Caesar in the Senate in 44B.C. These days, the governor fares much better in Louisiana’s Senate than Caesar did in Rome’s but he may be saying ‘Et tu?’ to some conservative House Republicans. The mostly GOP ‘fiscal hawks’ in the House once were among the governor’s stalwart supporters, but they began turning on him last year over budget policies.

The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” concludes in a new blog entry that lower and middle class families bear a higher share of the tax burden than wealthy families in states without an income tax. This comparison also holds true when you compare states with similar per capita state revenues. In addition, the blog finds that there is not much difference in the economic growth between states with no income taxes and states with high income taxes.

Louisiana’s higher education leaders may file a lawsuit to take control of college tuition increases from the Legislature. A 1995 state constitutional provision, approved by voters, requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature before a fee charged by a public agency can be increased. The Louisiana Board of Regents voted Wednesday to ask the state’s four college and university systems if they would support filing a lawsuit that challenges whether tuition is considered a fee.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu introduced her Fixing America’s Inequity with Revenues (FAIR) Act bill on Wednesday, which would expedite and increase the revenue sharing of offshore oil-and-gas production with Louisiana and other coastal states. Cosponsored with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the bill also includes new revenue sharing for alternative energy production, but excludes the expansion of offshore oil-and-gas drilling in order to give it a more viable chance of passing the Senate. The bill can bring as much as $100 million to Louisiana in 2017, and then increase from there.

The Louisiana State Police do not have enough money to train a cadet class for the fifth year in a row, according to State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. Edmonson told legislators Wednesday that the money does not exist in the proposed budget to train new troopers in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety, which includes State Police, is slated to receive $378 million next year – a drop of nearly 15 percent over current spending.

A guest column by the governor attempts to make the case for how his plan will create more jobs by lowering income taxes and eliminating tax loopholes.

$650 million – The gap between making Gov. Jindal’s tax shift plan revenue neutral, due to underestimating revenue losses from tax cuts and overestimating revenue gains from increased and broadened sales taxes. (Source: PAR)

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
New details on how the governor will fill a $3.6 billion gap
created by his tax-shift plan emerged during Tuesday’s hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee. The proposal estimates $1.4 billion in new taxes on 36 different types of services ranging from professional services like accounting and tax preparation to personal services like haircuts. The plan also calls for eliminating 76 sales tax exemptions, including exemptions for purchases by non-profits, the purchase and sale of certain items by carnival krewes and tax breaks for some original artwork. The Department of Revenue does not individually track the costs for the vast majority of these sales tax exemptions.

Film industry leaders are angry that Louisiana taxpayers would no longer subsidize the full salaries paid to top actors when they make movies in Louisiana under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax-shift plan. The governor’s plan would not kill – or vastly modify – the generous government subsidies that have helped the film and TV industry flourish in Louisiana in recent years, but rather calls for slight modifications. But that was enough for state Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, to send a letter to the governor expressing his concerns that the tax shift proposal will negatively impact the state’s film industry.

Louisiana was the only state to experience a significant decline in jobs during January, according to figures released Tuesday. The state’s unemployment rate rose to 5.9 percent – up from 5.6 percent in December, but still well below the national average of 7.9 percent. The size of the state’s total workforce shrank by 3,000 jobs after hitting an all-time high in December.

In a rare move, former Governor Kathleen Blanco shared her opinions about Jindal, saying the current governor is using the new tax debate to distract residents from Louisiana’s health-care cuts. “So I think that we need to really focus a little bit more on the real problems,” Blanco said, “And a lot less on trying to change a tax system that is not broken.” Blanco also criticized Jindal’s performance on teachers and public safety.

The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) launched a new website that makes federal hospital inspection reports easier to access, search and analyze. The site includes details about deficiencies cited during complaint inspections at acute-care and critical access hospitals throughout the United States since Jan. 1, 2011. According to the site, the Louisiana hospitals with the most violations are St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington (27), Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge (23) and Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Baton Rouge (18).

Sen. Mary Landrieu will reintroduce legislation Wednesday that would speed up revenue sharing for Louisiana and other off-shore oil producing states. Under the Fixing America’s Inequities with Revenue Act, states would begin sharing in 37.5 percent of federal off-shore oil and gas royalties immediately upon enactment, instead of having to wait until 2017. The bill would also lift the $500 million cap in revenue sharing for Gulf Coast states. Landrieu didn’t have an estimate of how much money the bill will generate for coastal restoration projects in Louisiana.

$1.4 billion – The estimated revenues from taxing new services under Gov. Jindal’s tax plan. (Source: Nola.com)

 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Monday’s open letter from more than 250 Louisiana clergy in opposition to the governor’s tax-shift plan brought a quick response from the state Department of Revenue. While the clergy letter said the governor’s plan to raise sales taxes by 47 percent would unfairly burden the poor, executive counsel Tim Barfield said the governor’s scheme to make the state more business-friendly actually involves raising taxes on businesses.

Left unsaid by Mr. Barfield is the fact that the businesses that would pay more for various goods and services would inevitably pass those costs on to customers in the form of higher prices – a hidden tax that’s not reflected in the impact estimates distributed by the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, the public hearings on the governor’s plan – the details of which are still being worked out – continue this afternoon at 1 p.m. when the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to meet.

John Maginnis reports that Gov. Bobby Jindal will hit the road this week to promote his tax-shift plan in Kiwanis and Rotary clubs around the state, and also notes that everything from haircuts and cable TV will suddenly be taxed while architects, engineers, accountants and many other professionals will have to start collecting sales taxes. “The governor might call these firms and those with tax exemptions ‘the special interests,’ who will hire lobbyists to protect their ‘loopholes,’ Maginnis writes. “True, fear of the tax plan has been a boon for lobbyists (“My phone has blown up,” said one), but once the bill is filed, they might get taxed too.”

State support for higher education in Louisiana has been cut by 42 percent since 2008 – the fourth-deepest cut in the country, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. State spending per student has declined more in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country except New Mexico, according to the report. These cuts, combined with higher tuition rates, will make it harder for the state to meet its future workforce needs and for low-income Louisianans to work their way into the middle class and beyond.

The governor’s tax plan might bring some much-needed cost controls to the state’s film subsidy program, which has been growing by leaps and bounds as health-care, education and other critical investments have faced deep cuts in recent years.

A Baton Rouge office building that the state bought 23 years ago for $1.875 million will be sold to an investor for $350,000 – an 81 percent decrease – if the full Legislature agrees to the deal. The sale proceeds would be plugged into next year’s budget. The state says a sale is needed because taxpayers are footing a $300,000 per year bill for upkeep on the vacant Wooddale Towers building, which is riddled with asbestos and unfit for rental.

65.43 – Percentage of total corporate income tax in Louisiana paid by the top 190 filers who have taxable income above $10 million. (Source: Louisiana Department of Revenue)

 

Monday, March 18, 2013
More than 250 Louisiana clergy have signed a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal urging him to rethink his plan to abolish Louisiana’s income tax in exchange for a 47 percent hike in the state sales tax and a broadening of the base to tax an array of services. The letter notes that Louisiana already has the nation’s third-highest sales tax and that raising this tax would put new burdens on the state’s poorest residents. “We believe that any proposal that would increase the tax burden on low- and moderate-income families in order to decrease it for wealthy families must be judged an unjust law,” said the letter.

A copy of the letter – complete with signatories – is available at www.lafaithcommunity.com. LSU communications professor Bob Mann gives his take on the letter here.

The Times-Picayune editorial page isn’t thrilled about the governor’s tax-shift plan, but stops short of outright opposition in its Sunday editions. But the normally pro-Jindal newspaper says much more information is needed about how the plan will affect various groups – including the tourism industry that drives much of the New Orleans economy.

More than half of the proposed budget for Louisiana’s higher education system – already at rock-bottom funding compared to their national peers – is based on money that may not materialize. The Advocate’s Koran Addo takes an in-depth look at the speculative nature of the 2013-14 budget for higher education, which will already be cut by 21 percent under the best of circumstances, and the alarm that it’s causing on campuses across the state.

Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press, citing a recent report by PAR, says the administration isn’t providing enough data to back up its claim that covering 400,000 low-income adults would be bad for Louisiana. Deslatte notes that administration officials have been relying on outdated research to support its claim that expanding Medicaid would be too costly, and that has left some legislators unconvinced of the governor’s position.

$209,000,000 – Proposed cut to Louisiana colleges and universities in the executive budget, the sixth consecutive year that state support is being reduced (source: The Advocate).

 

Friday, March 15, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal laid out the framework for his tax plan yesterday, which eliminates state income and franchise taxes but increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5.88 percent, a 47 percent increase. The plan also taxes some goods and services that are not currently taxed; raises the tax on tobacco products from 36 cents to $1.41 per pack; and offers some rebates for households earning less than $20,000 and retirees earning less than $60,000. Many of the details of the plan are still being worked out, and no detailed, independent analyses have yet been done on the final tax plan because the full proposal has not been public.

At least one small business owner in Lake Charles says the governor’s proposal will hurt small businesses. Charlie Hinchee, the owner of an art gallery, told KPLC that the proposed sales tax increases will drive customers away from small businesses and toward online sales and border sales. That could lower his revenues by thousands of dollars, which, as Hinchee pointed out, “could be the difference between staying open and not.”

The Jindal administration is not closing the door on expanding Medicaid for low-income adults along the lines of the tentative deal struck recently between Arkansas and the Obama administration that would provide health coverage through private insurance markets. State officials have been pushing for more flexibility under Medicaid, and want to see how far the Arkansas plan goes in that direction. But U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, told nola.com that the deal gives non-working adults better Medicaid coverage than those who work.

A report by tax preparer Jackson-Hewitt that says Louisiana’s rejection of Medicaid expansion could cost businesses up to $77.6 million in fines brought a sharp response from the Department of Health and Hospitals. Secretary Bruce Greenstein said Louisiana companies would only pay about $6.4 million in fines thanks to the administration’s refusal to cover up to 400,000 low-income adults. Jackson Hewitt representatives defended their data, and Greenstein admitted to The Advocate that his department hasn’t really studied the issue.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne says the Jindal administration’s decision to shift money from the parks maintenance fund leaves too few dollars to take care of the cabins and amenities that generate revenue for the state. The governor wants to use $9 million from the fund for education in the 2013-14 executive budget.

Bill Watch: House Bill 115, sponsored by Rep. Edward “Ted” James, D-Baton Rouge, allows parents to petition for the return of certain schools that were transferred to the Recovery School District back to the local school system. House Bill 116, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, shifts the authority over textbook control from the state to the local level. Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, repeals the controversial Louisiana Sciences Education Act, which allows schools to teach intelligent design and the biblical creation story in science classrooms.

47 – The percent increase of Louisiana’s sales tax under Gov. Jindal’s tax proposal (Source: Nola.com)

 

Thursday, March 14, 2013
Gov. Bobby Jindal will reveal the details of his long-awaited plan to abolish Louisiana’s corporate and personal income tax in exchange for a higher, broader sales tax this morning during a hearing of the tax committees in the House and Senate. Jindal is scheduled to appear in person before the joint committee at 10:20.

One contentious item expected to be part of the governor’s plan may have already been scrapped. John Overton, who sits on several small business advisory councils, told the Baton Rouge Business Report that the proposal for a statewide sales tax collector appeared to be dead, thanks to resistance at the parish level. Not only would that eliminate $400 million in new revenues from Jindal’s plan, but also eliminates “probably the single biggest incentive for small businesses to get behind this.”

State lawmakers conducted a hearing Wednesday to gather more information about federal Medicaid expansion and what its impact would be on Louisiana. While Jindal’s administration continues to label the expansion as “a massive entitlement expansion,” advocates argue that as many as 400,000 Louisianans could gain better access to health care.

A new study by Jackson Hewitt found that governors who refuse to expand their Medicaid programs for the poor may cost employers in their states as much as $1.3 billion in federal fines. A clause in the 2010 health-care overhaul penalizes some employers when their workers aren’t able to obtain affordable medical coverage through the company. Employers can avoid those fees if their workers qualify for Medicaid as part of an expansion.

Superintendent of Education John White announced that the state will use $5 million in federal professional development funds to train educators to reshape the state’s D and F schools. “If we are really going to deliver on the promise we made to children, we have to accelerate the pace of change,” White said. Applicants who successfully complete the one-year training program would have “substantial flexibility over hiring and firing, budgetary, curricular and other key decisions” in new or alternative schools.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee are concerned that some state employees are getting pay raises as other programs are being cut and rank-and-file workers go without increases. But statewide elected officials said state law requires them to grant pay raises if they have the money in their budgets to do so.

Bill Watch: House Bill 103, sponsored by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would remove possession of marijuana from mandatory minimum sentences under the state’s “three strikes” law. Under the current law, a state resident arrested on a charge of marijuana possession who had been charged with three previous felonies would receive a mandatory sentence of 20 or more years in jail.

77,583,826 – The potential shared cost that Louisiana employers would pay if Louisiana does not accept the federal Medicaid expansion (Source: Jackson Hewitt)

 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Members of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive budget proposal Tuesday during an exchange with administration leaders. Lawmakers from both parties questioned assumptions used to craft the budget, which relies on a host of anticipated funding sources that have not materialized. A bloc of conservative House Republicans nicknamed the “fiscal hawks” also said some of the governor’s financing plans don’t follow constitutional limits on certain pools of money.

A report by the Public Affairs Research Council on Tuesday called on the governor and Legislature to conduct a more thorough cost-benefit analysis of Medicaid expansion. While PAR’s report neither recommends nor rejects Medicaid expansion, it does call on the governor to “explain his alternative path for health care coverage for Louisiana’s uninsured if he chooses not to expand Medicaid.”

State lawmakers held a hearing this morning to discuss the pros and cons of expanding Louisiana’s Medicaid program to cover more uninsured adults. LBP’s reports on the importance of accepting federal money to expand coverage can be seen here, here and here.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission is threatening to sue the Jindal administration for diverting millions of dollars donated by oil companies to turn old drilling rigs into artificial reefs. The administration’s proposed budget uses $21 million from the fund for public colleges in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which would nearly drain the fund.

Some Louisiana residents can expect their flood insurance rates to drastically increase when National Flood Insurance Program reforms take effect this fall. Cuts to subsidies and discounts for qualifying programs will impact 486,233 Louisiana residents, causing their rates to increase by as high as 25 percent. Policies could cost more than $20,000 per year for residents with extremely high-risk homes.

$100 million – Amount executive budget proposes to take from the New Orleans Convention Center’s reserve fund, largely built up with local hotel/motel tax revenue, to replace revenue shortfalls. (Source: The Advocate)

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is keeping the pressure on Gov. Bobby Jindal to accept new federal dollars for extending Medicaid coverage to low-income Louisianans. Yesterday in the Shreveport Times, Landrieu cited several governors who have embraced the opportunity despite their opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

John Maginnis looks at the rosy picture that Gov. Bobby Jindal paints of Louisiana’s economy – with unemployment rates well below the national average – and asks a fundamental question: “if the Louisiana economy is doing so swimmingly under Gov. Jindal, why, instead of tweaking what already is working, are we contemplating radical surgery on state tax policy?”

Louisiana continues to take applications for online and other courses that will be offered by private firms and colleges despite questions about the overall legality of the program, state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday. Although the Legislature approved the Course Choice program last year, District Judge Tim Kelley ruled Nov. 30 that the law creating the program illegally diverts money for public schools to online firms and others. The state is appealing Kelley’s ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and a hearing date is set for March 19.

A report from the legislative auditor finds that the state Department of Children and Family Services needs to do more to prevent employee misconduct, some of which has led to fraud. Twenty-six cases of alleged employee misconduct were either settled or were still pending resolution in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Following last week’s nullification of the election extending tolls on the Crescent City Connection, regional planning authorities in New Orleans must sort out several issues, including how to pay for lighting on the bridge and what should be done about the ferries that run near it. Authorities must also decide how to handle the millions of dollars in tolls collected since the beginning of the year.

A new study by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research suggests that the drastic kinds of changes that some states have proposed for public pension funds, like converting them to 401(k)-style plans that would put retirees largely at the mercy of the stock market’s ups and downs, won’t be necessary. Instead, reforms like modest benefit cuts and increases in employee contributions are enough to help restore funds as the stock market rebounds from the 2008 losses.

Meeting Notifications: The House Appropriations Committee begins its review of the executive budget this afternoon at 1 p.m. Tomorrow morining, the House and Senate insurance committees meet to discuss the new health-insurance exchanges and the Medicaid expansion. And on Thursday, the House Ways and Means and Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committees will learn the details of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax shift proposal.

52,000 – The number of adults in the four-parish New Orleans metro area who may lose access to health care when the Medicaid “waiver” developed after Hurricane Katrina expires on Dec. 31. (Source: Dept. of Health & Hospitals)

 

Monday, March 11, 2013
An opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times notes that Southern and Western states tend to have more regressive tax structures than states in the Northeast and Midwest, and traced the trend back to post-Civil War Reconstruction. “Practically the only tax that could rise was the one that hurt the poor the most: the sales tax,” Katherine Newman writes. “And rise it did, throughout the Deep South in the late 19th century, then spreading into the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and the rest of the region in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The Advocate editorial board criticized the Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols for cobbling together a budget that “[robs] Peter to pay Paul in a hundred different ways.” The newspaper writes, “The ways that Jindal’s budget uses asset sales and a bewildering array of shifts of money from one fund to another may reach new levels in this budget. But the new budget’s structural deficiencies almost guarantee more midyear budget cuts, and cannot be called ‘balanced’ in any broader sense of the term.”

Lake Charles American Press writer Jim Beam also criticized Nichols for shifting blame  for five straight years of mid-year budget cuts and defending the administration’s use one-time money for recurring expenses. “What the taxpayers want is responsible budgeting, and that means using one-time money on one-time projects,” Beam writes.

Much of the budget savings from Jindal’s privatization of LSU public hospitals comes from a $400 million reduction in employee pay and benefits as hospital workers lose their state jobs, the Advocate reports. Closing hospitals in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma, Bogalusa and Lake Charles is likely to impact potentially about 5,000 jobs. Although LSU has not submitted the layoff plans to the state Department of Civil Service, the executive budget assumes the commission will sign off on the layoff plans.

Northshore community leaders gathered Friday at the former Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville to rally in support of Medicaid expansion. Forward LA director Mike Stagg, who organized the rally, told the Advocate that accepting the expansion is the only way to ensure health care for the uninsured. “I don’t think there’s any evidence the governor has any credibility or true concern for the uninsured,” Stagg said, adding that many of those who would gain coverage under new Medicaid guidelines are currently working but unable to afford insurance.

Bill watch: Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, filed legislation to require local political subdivisions to give more public notice before seeking to raise taxes. Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, wants to block the state from imposing mandates on local governments without providing the money to pay for them. And Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, will try again to limit the terms of office for statewide elected officials.

5,000 – The number of employees who will lose their jobs during the privatization of LSU public hospitals in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma, Bogalusa and Lake Charles enter into private contracts. (Source: The Advocate)

 

Friday, March 8, 2013
Treasurer John Kennedy and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols continued their tit-for-tat over the state budget in interviews with Nola.com’s James Varney, Kennedy insists that the executive budget includes too many contingencies, miscalculates potential savings and relies too much on one-time money. Nichols said Kennedy is the one who has trouble with math, and said the five years of mid-year budget cuts are the results of revised revenue forecasts – not the use of one time funds.

NPR reports that poor adults who live in states that don’t go along with the federal health overhaul’s expansion of Medicaid face a double whammy. “They can’t take advantage of the law’s widened eligibility standards allowing individuals with incomes up to [$15,856 in 2013] to sign up for Medicaid. But they’re also not likely to qualify for subsidized coverage on the new state-based health insurance exchanges set to open in January because, ironically, they’re too poor.” Without having access to health care subsidies, which are limited to individuals with incomes between $11,490 and $45,960 in 2014, it is likely that coverage will be unaffordable for many people.

A federal judge ordered Louisiana to repay $239 million in Medicaid overpayments that was rung up between 1996 and 2007. State officials, who plan to appeal the verdict, said the federal government should have forgiven the debt. But U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson was not convinced. “Louisiana would have the court believe that the federal government would agree to a plan that allows a state to claim additional funding if it is underpaid, yet pocket excess funds when overpaid,” Jackson writes in his ruling. “It is well settled that states must follow the standards incorporated in their approved Medicaid plans and not unilaterally amend the language.”

Three lawmakers are continuing to push against the Jindal administration’s use of money from an artificial reef fund to balance the state budget. Republican Reps. Joe Harriso of Napoleonville and Cameron Henry of Metairie, along with independent Dee Richard of Thibodaux, say the state’s raid of the Artificial Reef Development Fund not only negatively affects coastal projects, but also is a violation the Louisiana constitution. The Jindal administration redirected $45 million from the fund since the 2009-10 fiscal year, and argues that the law allows money in the fund to be shifted to protect higher education and health care from further cuts.

A new report found that Louisiana’s cuts to higher education funding are the third highest in the country. According to the “State Higher Education Finance Report,” state and local appropriations to higher education were reduced by10.2 percent in 2012 – the second-highest drop in the country – while tuition increased by 31.4 percent –  or well above the 8.3 percent national average.

131 – The current number of prefiled bills in the state Senate and House (Source: Louisiana State Legislature)

 

Thursday, March 7, 2013
Louisiana Association of Business and Industry vice president Jim Patterson described business feedback to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax shift proposal as “chilly” during a luncheon with the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. Patterson said he believes the Jindal administration’s delay in releasing its plan might be because they are wrestling with how to make the revenue numbers work.

Louisiana’s tax collections have declined considerably since the state’s peak year for tax collection, according to a new study by the Rockefeller Institute. The analysis shows that Louisiana collected 21 percent less revenue in 2012 than in 2008. Sales tax collections declined 16 percent, and personal income tax collections declined 24 percent.

Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, defended Jindal’s of one-time money to balance the state’s budget, saying much of the money originated from the general operating fund anyway. “Everyone has an opinion about one-time revenue, and I agree that generally it’s not the best budget practice to use those funds,” Fannin told the Monroe News-Star “My position has been that most of the revenue is taken from funds created by general fund dollars that have a surplus.” The 2013-14 executive budget includes $425 million in non-recurring funding for recurring expenses.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will vote today on the $3.46 billion funding request for public schools for the 2013-14 school year. The plan would mark the fifth consecutive year that state school aid per student has been frozen. The board will also consider changes to the public school funding package – called the Minimum Foundation Program – that will include a second round of state and local aid for vouchers, which allow some students to attend private and parochial schools. District Court Judge Tim Kelley ruled that current finance mechanism for the voucher program is unconstitutional.

The steep decline in staff levels at LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center and its clinics are forcing LSU officials to reduce both inpatient and outpatient clinic services to the poor and working uninsured in the Baton Rouge area. State Civil Service statistics show that there were 1,078 hospital and clinic employees as of June 29 at the Earl K. Long facility. As of March 1, there were 794 employees. The number of staffed hospital beds also declined from 76 in June 2012 to 15 this month.

21 – The percentage decline in Louisiana tax collections between 2008 and 2012. (Source: Rockefeller Institute)

 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Under pressure from House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration said it will unveil the details of its tax shift plan before March 15. The proposal is expected to recommend eliminating the state’s income taxes, and repay more than $3 billion in lost revenue through a combination of increased and broader sales taxes, new taxes on some services and eliminating some tax exemptions.

The Revenue Study Commission released its final report on Louisiana’s 468 tax exemptions that cost $5 billion in fiscal year 2011-12, concluding that the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year through tax breaks with scant oversight. Several of the commission’s recommendations mirror safeguards proposed by the Louisiana Budget Project in a recent report. The committee called for limiting the cost of tax exemptions, requiring sunset dates, conducting regular reviews of all tax exemptions and performing more cost-benefit analyses to make sure that taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment.

State Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, believes the privatization of state-run LSU hospitals requires legislative action. The Jindal administration insists the Legislature does not need to sign off, since the private hospitals are entering into management and operation lease arrangements with LSU. But Brossett, in a letter to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, notes that state law says the LSU Board of Supervisors “shall own and operate the hospitals,” meaning legislative involvement must occur to either amend current law to allow the privatization or obtain approval of the cooperative endeavor agreements.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is seeking an expedited hearing by the Louisiana Supreme Court on changes to the state’s retirement system. At issue is whether a 401(k)-type pension plan for new state employee hires was legally passed. A state district judge ruled that the law constitutionally required a two-thirds vote, which it did not achieve through the legislative process.

A Baton Rouge judge nullified the voters’ decision to renew tolls on the Crescent City Connection for another 20 years. Judge William Morvant agreed with the plaintiffs that many voters were provided incorrect ballots, which disenfranchised them by not allowing them to vote on the toll referendum. The referendum passed by just 36 votes. A new election on the toll referendum will occur on May 4, with the cost of the election falling on the plaintiff.

The automatic federal spending cuts known as “sequestration” are forcing Louisiana and other states to reduce the number of WIC eligible women and children. WIC is a highly effective nutrition program that serves roughly 9 million low-income women and children nationwide. Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants and those with medical conditions are likely to be spared from cuts. But children, postpartum women and low-income citizens with nutritional risk but no medical conditions are likely to be impacted.

$4,988,696,942 – The cost of Louisiana’s 468 tax exemptions in the 2011-12 fiscal year. (Source: Tax Exemption Budget, FY 12-13)

 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013
If it’s budget season at the state Capitol, it must mean Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and Treasurer John Kennedy are sniping at each other. This year’s brouhaha began Monday when Kennedy published a column that described Jindal’s executive budget as unrealistic and unbalanced, and lampooned the administration’s reliance on property sales to keep things balanced. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols soon shot back with a response defending the budget as balanced, but not before accusing Kennedy as having a “long track record of half-baked gimmicks” and miscalculations of the state’s debt.

A new law changing public school teacher tenure policies was ruled unconstitutional Monday by District Judge Michael Caldwell, who said that the new law violated a state constitutional requirement that all bills brought before the Legislature must contain only one “aim or purpose of enactment.” Jindal said that the state will appeal the ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Caldwell’s decision is the second major blow for Jindal’s education overhaul, after Judge Tim Kelley ruled in November that the school voucher program unconstitutionally diverted funds from public schools to private schools.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax-shift plan would make Louisiana more “CEO friendly,” according to Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin. He told the Baton Rouge Press Club that a simplified tax structure will help the state attract new businesses, but also noted the importance of a diverse revenue base that includes both income and sales taxes. Erwin also questioned whether the governor’s “revenue-neutral” plan will provide enough money to make needed investments for the years to come.

Jim Richardson, an LSU economics professor and member of the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference, believes the federal automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” will have no noticeable impacts in Louisiana. “For an individual who is affected directly, it could be devastating…. For the entire community, it will be a hiccup, but it’s not going to be devastation.” Last month, a White House report on sequestration’s impact in Louisiana warned it will cut 1,400 children from Head Start services, furlough 7,000 civilian Department of Defense employees and the remove 600 disadvantaged children from child care assistance.

Several Republican legislators are concerned that the governor’s budget threatens long-term funding for TOPS. Jindal’s budget proposes funding TOPS using $120 million in one-time revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement. But state Reps. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; and John Schroder, R-Covington, say this creates a problem for the following year, when the extra tobacco money no longer will exist.

A new report by the Legislative Auditor’s Office found that state payroll expenditures have gone up in recent years despite employee cutbacks during Jindal’s administration. Although some of the cuts were likely made to save the state money, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera notes that some costs to the state, like unemployment insurance and compensated absences, have increased. “You just don’t take people off the payroll without cost.”

The battle over Crescent City Connection tolls continues as District Judge William Morvant denied a motion seeking dismissal of a suit that aims to nullify the results of the toll renewal referendum. Morvant’s decision came after the Jefferson Parish’s deputy registrar of voters testified Monday that more than 90 registered voters were given incorrect ballots that did not allow them to vote on the referendum, which passed by just 36 votes.

$240 – The monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) block grant funding for a family of three in Louisiana, 13 percent less than in 1996 after adjusting for inflation (Source: CBPP)

 

Monday, March 4, 2013
As legislators work to craft next year’s budget and debate Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed tax-shift, they also must find a way to plug a $278 million budget gap in the current fiscal year. The Associated Press says the latest gap materialized because several financing sources the administration was counting on – such as proceeds from property sales, legal settlements and fund transfers – have failed to materialize.

A retiree from Slidell tells The Advocate that the governor’s plan to raise state sales taxes and eliminate state income taxes would represent “a violation of the trust I placed in the state of Louisiana when I chose to stay here many years ago rather than move to another state.”

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, has filed legislation to preserve retirement benefits for thousands of LSU hospital employees in south Louisiana losing state jobs because of privatization. “I don’t want employees to have to suffer because of decisions of the state,” Barrow told The Advocate. “They did not choose to retire.” Under the proposal, former employees could accept a lump sum retirement benefits and move it to another qualified pension plan or investment account. Those with 25 years-plus of service could retire at any age at full retirement.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne disagree on how state parks and tourism efforts should be funded. At issue is whether the state, facing slumping revenues, can divert money designated strictly for maintenance work at state parks and historic sites. The administration estimates park fees will generate $8.5 million, and wants that money to pay for park operations as well as maintenance. But Dardenne thinks the governor’s estimate is too high, especially since some cabins and other revenue-generating ventures remain closed following Hurricane Isaac. Fees from state parks generated $7.9 million last year.

Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein and former DHH Secretary David Hood commented on the agreement between Arkansas and the federal government that allows Arkansas to use Medicaid expansion dollars to purchase insurance for the poor through an insurance exchange. Greenstein said the agreement was good but didn’t go far enough to offer states flexibility, while Hood said the agreement was better than Louisiana’s do-nothing approach but warned that the agreement could increase health care reform’s overall cost.

A state-by-state analysis of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant shows that Louisiana’s TANF program has responded inadequately to the large rise in unemployment during the recession, leaving large numbers of families in severe hardship.

$278,000,000 – The current 2012-13 fiscal year budget gap, mostly due to property sales, insurance proceeds, legal settlements and fund transfers that have yet to materialize into revenue for the state. (Source: The Associated Press)

 

Friday, March 1, 2013
The nola.com/Times-Picayune editorial board ratchets up pressure on Gov. Bobby Jindal to accept the federal Medicaid expansion and the money and coverage it would bring. “With the high rates of diabetes and other chronic but treatable conditions in Louisiana, the broader access to basic health care could save lives. That alone is reason to participate,” the editorial notes, adding that the expansion also makes sense from a fiscal perspective since the federal government is paying most of the costs. The paper then notes that the governor has called Medicaid an “outdated” program but said that is no excuse for refusing to cover 400,000 people. “Having hundreds of thousands of residents without access to health care or who only use the emergency room is a sure path to ‘poor outcomes’, the editorial concludes. “Gov. Jindal, a health policy expert, ought to understand that.

Marsha Shuler’s “Inside Report” column takes a tit-for-tat look at how a report about the benefits of Medicaid expansion evolved into a nasty war of words between Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Lost in the political kerfuffle was the substance of the report, which said Medicaid expansion would cover 421,000 low-income Louisianans (the Louisiana Budget Project puts the number closer to 400,000) and bring in $1.1 billion per year to pay for health care.

Superintendent of Education John White held a conference call with the media to roll out the 2013-14 Minimum Foundation Program formula for K-12 schools, which will be presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next week. This year’s formula includes a number of changes from previous years, most notably in the way money for private-school vouchers is distributed. Yet just like the last four years, the formula does not fund the 2.75 percent inflation factor that was included annually until 2009. Had this administration elected to fund inflation the way previous governors did, public schools would get an additional $560 in per-pupil funding next year.

Children’s Medical Center in New Orleans could take over management of the New Orleans public hospital by the end of June, nola.com reports. That means a private entity would be given control over a $1.1 billion hospital that is being built with public funds.

Recovering journalist Russ Wise, now a member of the St. John Parish School Board, tells the Advocate that the quality of a state’s education system – not the tax structure – is often more important to corporate leaders when deciding whether to expand or relocate. 

$494,840,279: The amount of funding for higher education in 2013-14 that is contingent on the Legislature agreeing to the use of one-time money and a new anti-fraud initiative in the Department of Revenue. (Source: Executive Budget)

 

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