The House Appropriations Committee gutted Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget blueprint on Monday, scuttling his plans to give teachers a pay raise, commit new state dollars for early childhood education and use excess revenues to finance a host of state construction projects. The committee redirected dollars to state retirement plans and to fund election-year pet projects. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue has more from the budget proposal, including a plan to give the Louisiana Department of Health less time and money to achieve the massive task of reviewing Medicaid eligibility.

Republican lawmakers are banking on a drop-off in the state’s Medicaid population to offset the healthcare cut they want to make. But because Medicaid is almost entirely paid for with federal dollars, it’s not clear health officials won’t have to cut other programs to absorb the reduction. Health officials also said the financial decrease could result in a loss of close to $475 million in federal funding on top of the $174 million in health care money the state would eliminate.  Historically, when the state has had to reduce health care spending, funding for mental health services and people with disabilities has been disproportionately slashed. 

The budget bills now move to the House floor, where they’ll be debated on Thursday before heading to the Senate. The key question for lawmakers is whether to use available revenue to address Louisiana’s ongoing needs, or sock it away in various accounts so they can avoid a politically difficult vote on the state spending cap. The Advocate’s James Finn

The approach spelled out in the handful of bills that advanced Monday represents the priorities of House leadership who hope to keep spending lean; but many details, such as whether locals would have enough money to fund teacher raises, remain unclear.

The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press, who has probably seen more state government than any Louisianan except John Alario and Francis Thompson, writes that it would be a shame to see long-neglected needs go unaddressed while the state has the resources. 

(Former state Sen. Randy) Ewing said the purpose of the spending cap was to keep spending growth sustainable. He said the current surpluses don’t fall into the category of ongoing or bloated spending. That is when he said those from his legislative days “never envisioned money like you’ve got today.”  

Footnote: The budget debate is happening alongside a parallel debate on tax policy, with several bills moving through the Legislature that seek to cut taxes or expand tax breaks, which would further harm the state’s ability to sustain critical programs. 

Louisiana doesn’t prioritize working moms
Louisiana is the worst state in the nation for working moms, according to a new study from WalletHub. The Pelican State’s low rank on key metrics such as child care quality (48th), gender pay gap (39th), percentage of single-mom families in poverty (50th), and others, led to the poor ranking. The Lafayette Daily Advertiser’s Greg Hilburn reports on how state leaders responded to the study and the persistent roadblocks that stand in the way of progress. 

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards reiterated Monday his support for bills to raise the minimum wage, close the gender pay gap and offer paid family and medical leave. “It’s something I’ve been trying to do since I was governor,” Edwards said of creating a state minimum wage that exceeds the current federal minimum of $7.25 per house. “We need to show we care about workers and their families.” Of the gender pay gap, Edwards said, “That is just offensive to me. It’s just wrong.” But the Republican-dominated Legislature has consistently rejected previous equal pay and minimum wage bills and is expected to do so again during the current session.

Parishes could see more oil and gas revenue
Two proposals that would give parishes a larger share of oil and gas tax revenue advanced out of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure on Monday. While Louisiana’s constitution allows parishes to keep 20% of the severance taxes collected within their borders, a cap limits the maximum dollar amount that local governments can take in. The cap fluctuates with inflation and is currently set at $1.1 million per parish. The Louisiana’s Illuminator’s Wesley Muller breaks down how Rep. Larry Bagley’s House Bill 277 and Rep. Jack McFarland’s House Bill 278, which are both constitutional amendments and would need voter approval, would change the local severance tax revenue cap. 

Bagley’s bill would raise the cap to $10 million to give parishes money to repair infrastructure the fossil fuel industry “tears up” with large trucks and heavy equipment continuously traversing the roadways, he said.  “Any of you (who have) been to the parishes that are big oil and gas [producers] know the damages done?” Bagley said. “If you don’t, I can show you some videos of Desoto Parish and Caddo Parish and Sabine Parish, where I live.”  The other bill, from Rep. McFarland, targets different provisions in the constitution and would effectively set the cap at roughly $2.85 million. “It’s been disingenuous for us that we tell the locals that you’re getting 20% of this severance tax,” McFarland said. “But you’re not. We’re not actually giving them 20%.”

Note: The two proposals would cost the state $272 million over five years. 

Mixed results for Louisiana drinking water systems
The Louisiana Department of Health released the first results of its evaluations of the state’s water systems that are in accordance with a 2021 state law. The mixed results from Monday’s release echoes the findings from a preliminary report from January. According to LDH, more than two-thirds of the state’s water systems earned an A or a B grade, while nearly 15% of systems received a D or F. The Advocate’s Faimon A. Roberts III reports: 

The preliminary grades did not include data for financial sustainability or customer satisfaction. Many of the struggling districts are small and serve rural parishes, the state’s data shows. About 5% of Louisiana residents live in a district that was rated with a D or an F. More than three-quarters live in water systems rated A or B, the data shows. … [Sen. Fred] Mill authored the bill to help address many of the state’s water system’s infrastructure and sustainability problems. “Clean drinking water is such a fundamentally important part of our existence,” Mills said. “I know the water system grades will be a valuable tool for consumers and an incentive for water systems to make their infrastructure a priority.”

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Number of the Day
$51 million – Proposed cut to early childhood education in the House Appropriations Committee budget compared to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2023-24 executive budget. (Source: Louisiana Illuminator