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12.7.12

Even if never used, "parent trigger" helpful school reform


In all of the excitement surrounding far-reaching school reform legislation that stormed its way out of the Legislature, one thing unnoticed in all of it was institution of the “parent trigger,” which allows parents of a low-performing school to petition that the current governorship of that school be sacked in favor of the Recovery School District. If other states’ experiences are a guide, it will help, but perhaps not much.

Three other states currently have laws like this in place. In Louisiana’s version, a school ranked as failing or the grade above that for three consecutive years, if half plus one of the parents or guardians of children in it sign a petition in the 90-day period after the release of school scores, then the RSD will take it over to decide to run the school as a traditional school or make it into a charter school.

The experience of the innovator of the law, California, has yet to have the device work. A few attempts have been made, but the relative strictness of the process and the somewhat vague nature of the options has doomed each of these. By contrast, Louisiana’s is relatively straightforward, with the only real hurdle being getting fifty percent plus one signatures within 90 days after reporting.

11.7.12

Playing race card damages ability of Court to operate


So, according to National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a number of Louisiana politicians, and one justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, all of the other members of the Court are stark, raving racists prejudiced against black people. And the damage they bring to the Court will last for a long time.

That’s the only logical implication that can be taken away from a lawsuit filed by Associate Justice Bernette Johnson, a letter forwarded by New Orleans-area politicians, and a resolution passed at its annual convention by the NAACP. Seemingly the most racist of all would be the Chief Justice Kitty Kimball, who ordered a legal review of who her successor will be when she retires in a few months.

The Louisiana Constitution’s Art. V Sec. 6 reads simply, “The judge oldest in point of service on the supreme court shall be chief justice.” But it seems to depend on what “point of service” means. Does it mean “longest continuous service elected from a Supreme Court district,” or “longest continuous period sitting as a member of or with the Court?” Kimball felt the need to create a process to decide this because of unusual circumstances.

10.7.12

Medical economics confirm wisdom of Jindal opt-out choice

Among others, to date exclusively Republican state chief executives, Gov. Bobby Jindal has declared that his state will not pursue expansion of Medicaid coverage mandated without penalty by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). While uncertainty surrounds the law’s implementation, from a financial standpoint Jindal’s decision will save Louisiana money without impacting the level of care delivered.

As of yet the state has not been able to estimate how many residents would be newly covered if the expansion went through so that the bare minimum required, those families making 133 percent of the poverty level, would be put on state insurance rolls that currently are not covered, but one private sector entity has estimated the figure at 337,000 by 2019. Nor have the additional costs to the state been calculated by it, but the same group estimates that in 2017-19 prior to 2020 when the state must bear 10 percent of the costs the cost will be $337 million, thus presumably over $125 million a year from 2020 on.

Jindal says this is too much yet others argue that to forgo the expansion could cost the state more. They contend that these people will remain uninsured, who will be forced to pay a penalty incorrectly labeled as a “tax” by the U.S. Supreme Court if they don’t get insurance, and then rely upon hospitals and their emergency rooms, which either the state must pay for or it comes out of the pockets of those providers. The federal government subsidizes a lot of this through its Disproportionate Share (DSH) program in Medicaid, but Obamacare ratchets down these payments, staring slowly in 2014 at $500 million across all states but by 2019 hitting $5.6 billion (half the current level) before a reduction of $4 billion a year from current levels hits in 2020 and beyond. Louisiana hospitals, with much of this going to the state’s charity system, got about $732 million of these in 2011, or about 6.5 percent of the nation’s total, ranking it fourth overall in total dollars received and the highest per capita.

9.7.12

Only Angelle's political career tarnished by tax credit flub

Whether oversight or political calculation, the revelation that Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle was informed a month and a half before his boss found out about a controversial tax credit interpretation cannot help his presumed incipient political career as a state or federal elected official.

Back in 2009, then-state Rep. Jane Smith got passed a law that put a tax break on alternative fuel vehicles. Smith, who after a defeat to move into the Senate was appointed to be deputy secretary in the Department of Revenue, has stated that it was intended to help the burgeoning natural gas industry in the state, but the wording of it plausibly could have it applied to any alternative fuel-powered vehicle. That interpretation earlier this year was taken by then-Department of Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges, with tax revenue collection consequences that could hit $100 million to the state.

Apparently, key state legislators got into the know shortly thereafter, and did not seem overly concerned that anybody else should know about it – maybe because they knew it could make their budgeting task more miserable. But about a month after the ruling’s issuance, it seems one of Angelle’s subordinates sent along information that, had Angelle studied it to some degree, should have revealed to him the presence of the ruling. It was not for another month-and-a-half that Angelle, who also operates as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative liaison, seems to have figured out the implications of the ruling when the chief budgetary legislator who also had prior knowledge of the ruling, state Rep. Jim Fannin, put him onto it – 10 days after the session’s end. That day, Jindal reversed the decision, and the day after, Bridges resigned with Smith ascending to that job believing Bridges had not explicitly contacted Jindal about her decision two-and-a-half months previous.

8.7.12

Shortfall doesn't need revenue for revenue's sake approach

Such are the fortunes of politics when sometimes you get lucky in the budgeting process, and other times you don’t. As previously noted, in order for Louisiana to receive big backing for conservation and transportation, it had to sacrifice bonus payments into its Medicaid system that unfortunately have an immediate impact on this fiscal year. Suggestions for a special session of the Legislature to deal with that, if done correctly, can help with the sudden crisis.

The $651 million lost as a result of the change in federal law cannot be solved entirely with infusions of additional revenues, for both reasons practical and philosophical. Principally, while the panoply of various credits and exemptions create a patchwork of inefficiency in promoting economic development, they still manage to achieve it with its benefits exceeding costs. Therefore, the primary goal of strategy dealing with these exceptions must be with an eye towards flattening and lowering overall tax rates.

Nor is it necessary, for the notion of eliminating breaks and subsidies just to capture revenue flies in the face of the reality that Louisiana, even after some contractions, continues to have a spending, not revenue, problem. Thus, any additional revenue brought in from the expunging of these must be only at the expense of programs that cost the state greatly with little in the way of benefits concentrated among individuals or corporations.