Yet again longtime American Press columnist Jim Beam has put forth a reasonable analysis of the challenges facing our state as lawmakers convene for a second special session to solve the budget crisis the Jindal administration left behind.
It’s still early in the process, but it appears a number of state legislators aren’t convinced there is a genuine need at the second special session to raise the $600 million it will take to balance the state budget taking effect July 1.Take the time to read the full column here.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative program didn’t fare too well at Tuesday and Wednesday House Ways and Means Committee meetings. It sent the full House just a handful of bills Tuesday that raise some $220 million.
Edwards was exuding confidence after the Tuesday meeting that the job will still get done. But the committee gave him another setback Wednesday when it derailed a bill involving state income tax deductions that would have eventually raised $132 million annually.
Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria and chairman of the House Republican Caucus, is leader of the opposition that is responsible for the defeats. Harris told The Advocate he isn’t budging. “I’m not voting for any new taxes unless we have meaningful spending and tax reform, and I don’t see that happening,” Harris told the newspaper.
Two realities of life in Louisiana have so far been unable to move the anti-tax forces. The state’s poverty rate is 18.3 percent, which ranks 49th highest in the country. The state has 748,000 families living at or below the poverty level based on family income.
The rate of poverty also helps explain why Louisiana is the unhealthiest state in the country. The obesity rate here is 34.9 percent, fourth highest. The 306 cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 people is fifth highest. The state has a high percentage of smokers and some 30 percent of adults don’t exercise, the third highest rate of physical inactivity in the country.
Both the poverty and health statistics are examples of why providing health care is so important and a costly part of state government’s responsibilities.
The Associated Press said the $50 million in proposed budget cuts to the hospitals that took over the charity hospital system “could damage the stream of new doctors for a generation, in a state that has chronic shortages of health care workers and some of the worst health care outcomes in the nation.” The state’s health care services face $174 million in budget reductions in the 2016-17 state budget. Edwards in his opening address to the Legislature called those “critical, life-saving health care services.”
Important elements of the state’s education system also face big budget cuts. K-12 education is short by $75 million, the TOPS scholarship program by $155 million, higher education by $54 million and money for the education voucher program for students in poor families is being reduced from $42 million to $36 million.
OK, those are the problems. What are the solutions?