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Louisiana House and Senate reach budget compromise; Jindal says he will sign off on plan PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, June 06 2013 - 9:29 am

By Jeff Adelson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Louisiana House and Senate negotiators have struck a deal on the state budget with less than 24 hours left in this year's legislative session. The final version of the $25 billion spending plan includes a pay increase for teachers and additional funding for school districts, a pair of bills aimed at overhauling the state's budget process in future years and a series of measures increasing revenues through trimming tax breaks and instituting a temporary tax amnesty.

The agreement has the support of the nine negotiators and Gov. Bobby Jindal, but has not yet been presented to the full membership of the chambers. Representatives said they would be bringing the plan to their delegations Wednesday night and were optimistic that a budget would be approved by the end of the session at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The deal retains many of the key proposals by many of the groups in the House, including Democrats, a group of Republicans known as the fiscal hawks and the Legislative Black Caucus

"We achieved the principal goals of each of those groups," Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards of Amite said.

The session has seen the House take a leading role in the budget discussions, first by brokering a bipartisan compromise between its various factions that yielded a budget that eliminated non-recurring revenues in favor of the trims to tax breaks and spending cuts. When the Senate heavily altered the plan Sunday, House membersrejected those changes and worked on an alternative proposal.

Essentially all the demands the House have made since receiving the Senate's version of the budget have been met.

About $68 million will be directed toward local school districts, half of which will be earmarked for raises for certified classroom teachers. The districts will be able to decide how it spends the rest of the money.

Both Jindal and Edwards, who has announced plans to run to succeed the governor in 2015, praised the inclusion of that money.

"This is a very good investment," Jindal said.

While that money now amounts to a one-time bump, Jindal pledged that he would work with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to include the same amount in the formula used to calculate state support for school districts in future years.

One the other side of the education issue, the budget also retains funding for an expansion of the voucher program from about 4,000 students to about 8,500.

The budget also includes revenue from a series of changes to tax credit programs, such as the Enterprise Zone and tax credits for solar energy systems, aimed at boosting the amount of money in state coffers. That will come on top of a short-term infusion of cash through a multi-year amnesty for delinquent tax payers.

The changes to the tax credit programs, however, will be offset by new tax credits this session. Jindal said Wednesday that he would have no problem signing those bills so long as the total amount of revenue to the state did not increase.

Two measures promoted by the fiscal hawks to change future budgetary procedures, who have opposed the use of one-time money in the budget, will also be passed as part of the overall plan. Those measures would give lawmakers a better idea of what areas of the budget they can adjust, as opposed to the areas that are off-limits because of legal restrictions, and would require a more thorough review of state revenue.

Overall, Jindal praised the budget itself, ticking off the increase for school districts, a lack of tax increases and the failure of bills that would have forced the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Some lawmakers had argued expanding Medicaid, a move Jindal has opposed on concerns it would cost the state down the line, would help the state's budget problems but the measures that would have allowed that were shot down in both chambers.

"I want to praise both legislative branches for working very hard" on the budget, Jindal said.

The final spending plan falls short of the fiscal hawk's goal of eliminating all one-time money in the state budget. Representatives said they the proposal contained about $30 million to $100 million in one-time money and are awaiting an analysis for legislative staff.

Earlier in the day Rep. Brett Geymann, a leader of the fiscal hawks, said that while the use of any one-time money in the budget would generate opposition from some members of his group, the passage of the budget reform bills was enough of a win
to get general support for the package.

"It's a victory for in the passage of these bills right now," he said.

Throughout the day Wednesday, lawmakers held occasionally heated private meetings and negotiations aimed at bridging the gap between the two budgets, lawmakers said. Much of the animosity of those exchanges could be due to frayed nerves at the end of the session rather than significant disagreements over policy, Geymann said.

Still, Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said he was remaining cautiously optimistic "until we're all hugging and patting each other on the back that we got a budget out of here."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Covington, said praised the House for doing a "good job crafting their bill" and argued that the changes made through the Senate process made it a better budget.

The final budget package is a significantly different than Jindal's initial proposal and Edwards argued the effort showed the power of the coalition that had been built. While that group has significant ideological differences on many issues, Edwards said he expected more cooperation between the sides in future sessions.

"Clearly it's not possible on every issue but on some of the larger, overarching interests, sure," Edwards said.

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$25B budget debate shifts to Louisiana Senate PDF Print E-mail
Monday, May 13 2013 - 1:47 pm
MELINDA DESLATTE
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Action on crafting Louisiana's nearly $25 billion budget shifts to the Senate this week, after lawmakers in the House wrapped up work on a bipartisan compromise for how to pay for state programs and services next year.

The Senate's financial analysts were combing through the details Monday of the House version of the 2013-14 budget passed late last week, with Senate Finance Committee hearings on the proposal slated to begin later in the week.

In recent years, senators often have tossed nearly all the work done by their counterparts in the House and sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal on how he wanted the spending plans to look. But lawmakers in the House have shown a strong front against being marginalized and could use procedural moves to block the budget if they disagree with what the Senate passes.

The leader of the Senate's budget negotiations, Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, offered kind initial words on the House proposal, calling it an improvement from the spending plans Jindal submitted for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"I think the budget looks better than it did when (lawmakers) first got it," Donahue, R-Mandeville, said Monday.

He didn't say whether he thought senators would support the House version, however, saying he needed more time to evaluate what was passed.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have criticized Jindal's proposal to pay for continuing programs with $500 million in financing from property sales, legal settlements, fund sweeps and other items that haven't yet happened and that would only drum up money for one year.

The House compromise would replace those dollars with money from trimming tax break programs, cuts to travel and contracts at state agencies and $200 million expected from a tax amnesty program. Many of the piecemeal dollars proposed by Jindal would instead be used for debt payments, construction work and highway projects, considered one-time expenses.

To make the numbers balance, however, the budget plan would use some short-term fixes, like the dollars from the amnesty program, and assumes $90 million in improved revenue estimates that haven't yet been projected.

Questions have been raised about whether the numbers work. The Legislature Fiscal Office analysis, for example, doesn't confirm estimates of how much could be raised by the amnesty program, saying the collection rates over the 30-month period were unclear.

The amnesty program would let delinquent taxpayers pay overdue taxes with eliminated or lessened penalties as a way to generate upfront cash for the budget

Jindal opposes pieces of the House compromise budget that he considers a tax hike and says he will veto changes to tax break programs that would raise new dollars for spending.

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Robideaux speaks on Jindal tax package PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, April 02 2013 - 8:11 pm

House leader awaits Fiscal Office analysis

BY MICHELLE MILLHOLLON
Capitol news bureau
April 02, 2013
21 COMMENTS

The sponsor of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax package said Monday that fiscal analysis of the plan will be key to the package’s success, but that the governor’s influence also carries weight.

“If the governor’s pushing something, it’s never dead on arrival,” state Rep. Joel Robideaux said. “I’m not arguing that there’s not hurdles or there’s not a lot of fixes that need to be made.”

Robideaux, R-Lafayette, stopped short of declaring that the package meets the governor’s goal of generating enough revenue to support a state budget that funds hospitals, colleges and other public services. The governor has said the complicated plan of tax swaps will be revenue neutral, ensuring there is no effect on the budget.

Robideaux said he awaits the Legislative Fiscal Office’s number-crunching determination. The office is staffed with economists who look at the financial effect of proposed legislation.

“I’m not going to say it’s revenue neutral until I’ve gotten the numbers from the Fiscal Office,” Robideaux said.

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IT'S A NEW YEAR PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, January 31 2013 - 6:39 pm

It is time to say goodbye to 2012 and start handling the challenges presented by 2013.

This will be a critical year for our state as we bear the combined effects of the recession, Obamacare and the fiscal cliff. As a small business owner I am very concerned about the results of the government takeover of healthcare in our country. I am personally dismayed at the prospects of what these changes will mean long-term to my family, to my employees, to the people of our state and, ultimately, to the citizens of this country.

The state was hit with a large increase in costs when the federal government lowered our Medicaid reimbursement rate, called FMAP. The cost to our state budget was immediate and immense, and the effects of the change will be felt for years to come.

The Administration is projecting a deficit for next fiscal year (FY14) of over $800 million dollars.

Additionally, the Revenue Estimating Conference met in December and recognized a decrease in revenues for the current year (FY13) and for the coming year (FY14). The REC's lowering of our estimated revenues by $165 million for the current year only gives the governor six months to cure the deficit, which annualizes to a $330 million cut. The way the governor is choosing to cure the mid-year deficit will result in more than $70 million in cuts, annualized to over $140 million in next year's budget.

So the problems are very easy to predict -- in the past we have cut allocations to higher education and healthcare -- and the results are just as predictable. This Legislature has got to find a better solution to our budget crises than the continued destruction of our higher education and healthcare systems.

While the hurdles we face are high, we have been through difficult times before.  I know the resilience of our people and our institutions will help see us through challenges again, and I will continue to work in the Senate to improve not only our present but our future, as well.  As always, please let me hear from you if you have questions, concerns or ideas. Your continued participation will be vital to any success we may have in the battles that will be fought in the Legislature starting in April.

Jack

 
State, Local Leaders Announce Plans for Future of Inpatient Behavioral Health Services in Northshore, Greater New Orleans Area PDF Print E-mail
Monday, December 03 2012 - 11:00 am

http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/newsroom/detail/2714

BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals joined St. Tammany Parish leaders and area legislators today to announce a final agreement allowing the parish to use the property at Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, with Meridian Behavioral Health Services assuming control of inpatient beds at the hospital and outpatient services on the property continuing.

"Our commitment has always been to maintain services through this transition, and this agreement is a perfect example our ability to work closely with local officials and other partners to deliver health care services more efficiently and better tailored to that community's needs," said DHH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein. "With local governance and Meridian's expertise, we are confident that this will be a smooth transition and a better pathway for sustainable mental health services in the area."

In July, the State announced plans to cease operations at Southeast in response to Congress sharply reducing Federal Medical Assistance Percentage funding for the Medicaid program. Those plans called for the continued operation of these services through agreements with private providers.

The State has now signed an agreement giving St. Tammany Parish the authority to manage all property at Southeast, and has signed an agreement for Meridian to operate 58 psychiatric inpatient beds - 42 youth and 16 adult. A separate agreement between St. Tammany Parish and Meridian allows Meridian to operate these 58 beds on the Southeast campus. These agreements will also allow the current outpatient and group home services providers on the Southeast campus to remain in place. Meridian will begin operating these beds at Southeast effective Jan. 2, 2013. DHH will discontinue all management of Southeast effective Jan 1, 2013.

Meridian will give hiring preference to current Southeast employees where comparable jobs are available, and has already begun the process of interviewing employees.

"We are incredibly pleased that after five months of hard work we are moving forward with a solution for Southeast Louisiana Hospital," said Pat Brister, St. Tammany Parish President. "This is a solution that continues to provide necessary services to this Parish and the Northshore, as well as keeps hundreds of jobs in this community. This is a great thing for St. Tammany Parish, but in the end, the patients and families of those that desperately need those services will benefit the most."

"Southeast is a valuable part of our community that provides needed mental health services, and it is also a vital piece of our local economy," said State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville. "I'm pleased with this outcome, which keeps the hospital open, keeps jobs in our parish and is a better value for the taxpayers."

"Meridian Behavioral Health Services [MBHS] is proud to provide high quality behavioral health care services to patients and their families in the Southeast region of Louisiana," said Wesley Mason, CEO, Meridian Behavioral Health Systems. "MBHS is excited to expand operations into Louisiana and help meet the needs of adolescents and adults where behavioral services are definitely needed, including acute care and youth residential services."

"This transition brings on a strong partner, Meridian, who will help us maintain safety net behavioral health care services in St. Tammany Parish while assuming more control at the local level," said State Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville.

The State is currently finalizing arrangements with two other providers - Community Care Hospital and River Oaks Hospital -- to expand existing bed capacity in New Orleans through beds previously housed at Southeast. Community Care Hospital will operate eight beds for adults and River Oaks Hospital will operate eight youth beds at their existing facilities effective Jan. 2, 2013.

The State has also entered an agreement with Washington-St. Tammany Hospital in Bogalusa to operate eight adult beds on their campus.

Overall, this series of agreements maintains the State's inpatient psychiatric bed capacity.

In October, DHH transferred 94 patient beds that were previously at Southeast to East Louisiana Mental Health System (34) and Central Louisiana State Hospital (60), and several staff members previously employed at Southeast accepted jobs at these two hospitals.

The State has increased and eased access to behavioral health care services statewide with the launch of the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership in March. The Partnership operates one central hotline - 1-800-424-4399 - that residents can call to find mental health or addiction treatment providers near them.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about DHH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's blog at http://www.myhealthla.org/, Twitter athttp://twitter.com/La_Health_Dept and search for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals on Facebook.

 
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