Thursday, 05 June 2014 16:47

LBP: Louisiana legislature failed to tackle state's critical challenges

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capitol-newThe Democratic Party-leaning Louisiana Budget Project has issued its post-Louisiana Legislative Session overview, and it's not pretty.  

According to the LBP's email summary: 

The Louisiana Legislature wrapped up its work this week without tackling many of the state's critical challenges, according to a new report by the Louisiana Budget Project. While legislators largely avoided the destructive cuts that have become the norm in recent years, they failed to address the state's structural budget problems or take advantage of opportunities to help low-income families.

"This was not a productive session for our state's most vulnerable residents," LBP Director Jan Moller said. "Elected officials had an opportunity to give low-income workers a raise, provide much-needed health coverage and make common-sense reforms to the payday lending industry. But they elected to stick with the status quo, and that's simply not good enough."

The overview begins with:

The 2014 Legislature finished its work this week with a few modest successes and some high-profile failures. But for the most part, the governor and Legislature elected to stick with the status quo. That simply isn’t good enough in a state that continues to be plagued by endemic poverty, and where encour-aging signs of economic growth are undermined by an uncertain financial future for K-12 schools, colleges and the health care safety net.

In a year when Gov. Bobby Jindal carried an unusually light agenda, the Legislature had a historic opportunity to pass policies that lift families out of poverty and ensure that every Louisianan who works hard gets a chance to benefit from the state’s economic resurgence. But policymakers rejected several common-sense reform measures that would have protected borrowers from predatory short-term loans, given a much-needed raise to low-income workers and extended life-saving health care coverage to un-insured adults.

Legislators also failed to address the state’s structural budget deficit — the chronic imbalance between general revenues and basic expenses that have forced policymakers to balance the budget with tax amnesty dollars and various reserve funds in recent years. The 2014-15 budget that was sent to the governor relies on $991 million that will not be available the following year, which means health care and education programs that cit-izens depend on will be at risk for ma-jor cuts unless policymakers find new sources of revenue.
There was progress on a few fronts: In New Orleans, the network of commu-nity health clinics that sprung up af-ter Hurricane Katrina was saved from financial calamity when the Legisla-ture came up with $10 million in state funds to keep them operating. That’s good news for the 51,000 low-income adults in the four-parish metro area who depend on these clinics for pri-mary and preventive care.

The long waiting lists for home- and community-based services for peo-ple with disabilities will get a little shorter, thanks to $26 million in new state and federal funding for “waiver” programs. Nursing homes and hos-pice providers, meanwhile, will get an additional $70 million next year for providing the same services they do today.

Public colleges and universities re-ceived a slight budget increase after five years of steady cuts that have eliminated more than 1,000 faculty positions and forced steep tuition in-creases. The new Workforce and Inno-vation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) fund, seeded with $40 million, is an important step to training the workers who will be needed to fill the jobs that are being created as part of the manu- facturing spurt in South Louisiana.

But even this success is dampened by the reality that low-income students continue to lose ground in Louisiana.

Funding for need-based Go Grants, which helps low-income students af-ford college or technical school, has been flat since 2011. This program is critical to helping vulnerable students stay in school to finish their education at a time when tuition and fees are going up every year.

Read the entire LBP overview

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