Trying to rebuild the Democrat brand in Louisiana is a tough task, even when you have an easy audience of reporters whose ideological faith by and large has them proclaiming “hallelujah” to the task. But if this is the best that state Rep. Walt Leger can do, he’d better get used to being on the outside of power looking in.
Leger, who serves as the speaker pro-tem in the Louisiana House of Representatives, addressed the weekly exercise of capitol-area media members intended to demonstrate their relevance by attracting newsworthy speakers, a meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge. Not only his position, which makes him likely the most powerful Democrat in state government, but also his membership as apparently the only Democrat in the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign made what he had to say of some note.
And on the subject of that affiliation with the group that terms themselves the “fiscal hawks,” Leger did have an accurate observation. He noted the internal contradiction that existed with the group’s presumed signature achievement during the legislative system, asserting a sharp decrease in the amount of “one-time money” in the budget, or dollars budgeted from recurring sources that are not from the general fund and money that comes from one-off transactions such as property sales. The main mechanism by which to replace these bucks, was the use of a tax amnesty program which, as far as he was concerned, “kicked the can down the road” and “doesn’t fix the root problem.”
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:35
Regrettably, Gov. Bobby Jindal recently signed into law what may not be technically a tax increase by law, but in spirit is nothing more than a geographically-restricted version of a “sick tax” that could become a self-inflicted wound across the state by 2015.
Jindal affirmed into Act 222 of 2013 SB 44 by state Sen. Ben Nevers. The law allows the city of Bogalusa to impose as high as a six percent “provider fee” onto delivery of health care services by a hospital, which applies to just one entity, Bogalusa Medical Center. The intent is for the state to be able to use this money as a basis to capture Medicaid matching funds, a large portion of the business of the state-owned hospital that soon will be contracted out for running likely to a religious nonprofit entity. This would occur only after approval by Bogalusa voters, presumably at the regular 2014 election date.
The law regards this surcharge onto gross receipts as a “fee” because it is reasonably related to the purpose it funds and given other language in the law that states “No hospital … shall pass on the cost of the provider fee or include the provider fee as an itemized and separately listed amount on any statement sent to any patient, responsible party, insurer, or self-insured employer program.” Further, “Any bill or statement sent to a patient, responsible party, insurer, or self-insured employer program after the initial effective date of this Subsection shall contain a statement that, ‘This bill does not contain any cost of the provider fee levied by the city of Bogalusa’.”
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:40
That Louisiana barely maintains second-to-last place among the states in terms of proportion of adult population with a college degrees tells little about resources put into and access to higher education but much about how those resources are deployed and how access can occur in a deleterious way.
With only 27.9 percent having any kind of degree, over 10 points below the national average, several reasons exist why this could be the case. One, that not enough funding is going into the enterprise, can be dismissed quickly. The state ranks 18th in state per capita spending on higher education, yet ranks poorly in outcome measures such as this one, in part because these inputs are being spread too thinly with so many campuses of an overbuilt system.
The other reasons, which deal with how the inputs get used, reveal much more about the nature of the problem and the solution. Until this past year, one of these was the virtually open admissions model that existed at the lowest tier or “regional,” universities. Before then, all a recent high school graduate or General Equivalency Diploma holder needed to do for admittance to at least some of these was to perform around the national average in the American College Test, or have a better than C average in core coursework, or to graduate in the top half of the high school class. Now, both these averages must be achieved as well as 2.0 grade point average overall and some require higher standards still, and universities in higher tiers even have more stringent requirements. And these are due to increase again next academic year.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 15:30
There’s no reason to end the LA Swift service. But there’s every reason to end any state or local government involvement in it.
LA Swift is the bus service, heretofore paid entirely by the federal government and by small passenger assessments that vary between $4.40 and $5.00 a trip, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The idea was, after Hurricane Katrina, to provide an opportunity for those displaced from the New Orleans area to have access, perhaps even be employed, in the area while temporarily housed in Baton Rouge or select points in between. The federal government put up all the funds, presently about $2.3 million a year.
Over the years, naturally enough, the program began to mutate beyond its original purpose and thereby expand. While a ridership survey showed the majority of rides involved getting to and from work, nearly half were reported as occurring for visitation purposes, and some for health care reasons. Only a third did not have a private car to use for transport. It also promised some amenities in traveling, such as ability to view televisions, wireless connectivity, and the ability to transport bicycles. It grew into eight round-trips on weekdays, five during weekends with more limited stops, serving over 12,000 riders a month and thus promoting the following possibility.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:20
With the necessity of an election now less than a year-and-a-half away, Sen. Mary Landrieu knows her reelection chances are most imperiled by hers being the decisive vote for the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” Thus she took the opportunity at the end of the recently-completed regular session of the Louisiana Legislature to write an opinion piece on a matter related to it that provides a textbook example of how she will try to distort, if not outright fib about, the issue during the campaign.
Landrieu addresses in writing the Legislature’s decision not to expand coverage to all but the lowest-income households already covered, a choice made optional for states as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling almost a year ago on the matter. She berates its majority and Gov. Bobby Jindal for this opposition, and gives alleged justifications that, when analyzed in the light of truth, simply do not hold up.
Initially, she claims that “By saying no to the expansion, they said no to positive economic impacts to Louisiana’s economy and health care improvements for many people who desperately need and deserve better care.” She then cites statistics from the leftist advocacy group Families USA that purport to show increased economic impact and jobs – but naturally ignores the report’s lack of comprehensiveness in its approach that makes its conclusions next to worthless.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:45
While tax reform to begin the process of eliminating the income tax would have been great to have achieved, the single largest disappointment of the just-concluded regular session of the Louisiana Legislature was almost nothing was done to rein in unproductive tax credits, despite an entire commission studying the matter after the previous session’s end. And of these, failure to make meaningful change to the motion picture investor tax credit program should rankle taxpayers the most.
Not only is this the single biggest waster of the people’s money of all such items extant, where citizens get back fewer than one dollar for every seven transferred to mainly wealthy individuals (including state elected officials), but also the time was just so ripe for it to happen. Mounting budget pressures plus the commission’s exposure put the credit in the crosshairs, so the political will seemed present to make major modifications. There was talk, and legislation, about capping what would be claimed for salaries and other expenses and limiting qualifying investors’ stakes, and even sunsetting the program after a couple of years if it did not prove cost effective.
The move by a group of legislators calling themselves the “fiscal hawks” to find new sources of revenues also seemed to make meaningful change more possible. They talked up cutting the reimbursement levels of this and other credits in order to find dollars to offset their Great Satan of “one-time money.”
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:05
Until last week, the U.S. Senate had more black Republicans in it – Sem. Tim Scott – than did all of the states’ (50 if we include Nebraska’s unicameral body) upper chambers combined. Now they’re even up, thanks to Louisiana’s state Sen. Elbert Guillory making the switch back from Democrat of six years ago to the party in whose governance body he once served.
On the one hand, it’s just a label. Guillory’s overall voting record since his election in 2007 to the state House and then special election to the state Senate in 2008, according to the Louisiana Legislature Log voting index (where 100 means all votes in a year were of the conservative/reform variety) gives him an average of just 56 – exactly the overall average of the entire Legislature over those five years putting him a shade on the side of Republicans who typically espouse conservatism and reform ideas. His one year in the House and first in the Senate were much lower – a 32.5 compared to nearly 72 in the next three years, going from a district 58 percent black and 69 percent Democrats to one 54 percent black and 63 percent Democrats. The district now is 55 percent black, 61 percent Democrats.
On the other hand, the symbolism carries import politically both positive and negative. No group in America even is close to the loyalty that blacks display to Democrat candidates of any color, but at the national level black Democrat candidates score slightly better support. Whether that gets scrambled by having a black Republican candidate is another matter. Guillory has joined an extremely small group; while current data is difficult to come by, a decade ago only a half dozen black Republicans sat in state legislatures, and every one of them represented a majority white district. Possibly no black Republican ever has won election to a state legislative spot in a majority-minority black district since the 19th century.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:55
At the close of the 2013 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature, some speculated that potentially a new day could be dawning in the state’s politics. That’s correct, but for absolutely the wrong reason cited.
The revolutionary aspect of it all supposedly is that the Legislature is willing, ready, and able to stand up for itself against the executive, who presumably uses his formal but more his informal powers of office to dominate policy-making. In this view, session results allegedly showed legislators could take charge and become the prime movers of policy.
Evidence of legislative leadership is said to be its ability to carve out a budget more to its liking, particularly of the House, than what the governor preferred. Elements of both parties in the House combined forces to drive the process, resisting even the Senate, which seemed to be closer to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s preferences. Meanwhile, Jindal himself abandoned his stated priority given before session commencement of tax reform to eliminate income taxation and appeared to do little or could do little to keep the budget shaped along his preferences.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:50
While the parameters will become clear by the end of the day, the apparent compromise product for Louisiana’s operating budget represents a small defeat for conservatives in concessions on extra spending that perhaps did not have to be made and in the potential for bigger government down the road.
As previously noted, the conservative Republican faction that controlled the Senate, about a third of the House of Representatives, and had the backing of Gov. Bobby Jindal, largely could have dictated terms with the assistance of the non-conservative wing of the party (with a couple of other non-party members) in the House, the so-called “budget hawks” who comprised about another third, cutting Democrats out of the deal. Being that as a whole Republicans had a majority, that should have been the natural outcome, and it largely was.
The “hawks” came on board because the use of “one-time” money – a term that includes surplus recurring revenues dedicated for one purpose but which are used for another and nonrecurring monies from one-off transactions such as property sales – was limited and two bills, HB 437 and HB 620, were promised to be passed in addition to the budget in HB 1. They actually didn’t have much leverage over the former because the amount of that money fell under the total specified in the House rule that would have required a two-thirds vote. But there was trading going on with the legislation, because of the majority needed not just to pass a budget, but also because of the constitutional two-thirds vote requirement to take it up (and the other two bills) with less than three days to go in the session.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:00
Perhaps on the brink of getting glorious something for absolutely nothing, if Republican legislators are smart Democrats may find they got themselves to pull defeat from the jaws of victory on the issue of Louisiana’s budget.
Yesterday, unanimously the House rejected Senate changes to the operating expense budget HB 1. These included adding back in from previous House receipt of the bill some “one-time” money, or a mix of recurring revenues that do not initially go to the general fund and nonrecurring monies from things like asset sales, spending more on higher education and on a educator salary bonus, and reducing cuts to government contracting and other ancillary services that otherwise might not be implementable.
This probably mostly pleased one of the three House factions, conservative Republicans, despite their misgivings over the increased size of government that resulted. That change they likely countenanced to satisfy Democrats, the chamber’s minority but made relevant in the debate because other Republicans, termed “fiscal hawks,” had broken with the leadership and initially proposed a combination of tax increases and cuts, reductions in the least valuable tax credits, and a semi-gimmick tax amnesty in order to wipe out any use of one-time money. Although each group represents about a third of the chamber, the “hawks” had leverage because of the House rule that forces the use of any one-time money past a certain growth factor, which produced a figure of $188 million this year, to be approved by a two-thirds vote.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:15