The key question hovering over the state budget this year is whether lawmakers can muster the two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate needed to lift a constitutional cap on state spending. House conservatives have come out against raising the cap, which would restrict the state’s ability to invest in infrastructure, early childhood education and teacher pay raises. Senate President Page Cortez and Gov. John Bel Edwards take the opposite view, and on Wednesday Cortez asked the Senate Finance Committee to give the Legislature the flexibility it needs to invest available dollars. The Advocate’s James Finn was there: 

Cortez warned the committee that failing to breach the cap could cause the state to miss out on hundreds of millions of federal grant dollars. And he projected that if lawmakers don’t breach the limit, Edwards would call them back to Baton Rouge for a special session to do so. (Randy) Ewing, the former state senate president, said the purpose of the spending cap was to keep spending growth sustainable. The extra cash flowing into Louisiana’s coffers as the economy rebounds following COVID-19 — one-time money which Edwards wants spent on one-time costs — does not fall in the category of ongoing or bloated spending, he told the committee. “We never envisioned money like you’ve got today,” said Ewing. “But the basic concept was, ‘If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it.’ Well, you’ve got the money, and you can spend it.” 

Medicaid expansion (likely) here to stay
After years of refusal by former-Gov. Bobby Jindal to expand Medicaid in Louisiana, all major candidates vying to replace him in 2015 supported the policy in some form or fashion. Gov. John Bel Edwards went on to win that race and promptly expanded the health care program – via executive order – to low-income Louisianas in his first act as governor. Nearly eight years later, and after nearly 500,000 people have gained access to health coverage, no major candidates vying to replace Edwards are calling to undo his order. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports: 

The candidates made their comments after Edwards, speaking separately at PAR’s annual meeting, said he hoped his successor would keep a program that he said has reduced the state’s uninsured rate from 24% of the population to just under 9%. “It helped us solve our budget problems,” Edwards said to the luncheon crowd, noting that the state has to cover 40% of the cost for treating an uninsured person but only 10% of the cost for treating a person who has Medicaid. “And we haven’t had a rural hospital close, unlike other states,” Edwards said. At the candidate forum afterward, Steven Procopio, who is PAR’s president, asked each candidate whether they would keep Edwards’ executive order, which he signed on his first day as governor.

Tough-on-crime bills advance
Bills aimed at charging 17-year-olds as adults and increasing drug possession penalties, including making fentanyl possession a life sentence, were among proposals that received approval from the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice earlier this week. Many of the bills that advanced – or are still scheduled for hearings – are part of lawmakers’ effort to take a tough-on-crime stance during an election year. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg Larose provides some context on the crime bills’ ultimate fate if they were to reach Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk, and what’s else is on tap for the busy committee: 

More stringent anti-crime proposals are in store for the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday, but the agenda also includes a bill to eliminate the death penalty in Louisiana. Gov. Edwards has expressed his support for ending capital punishment, a stance that some Republicans around the country are gravitating toward to sync with their “pro-life” beliefs. Even if many of the bills approved Tuesday advance through the legislature, it’s likely the governor will veto them. Edwards bills himself as a progressive on criminal justice issues, and this will be the final time he gets to reject bills before his term ends in January. Regardless of their fate, the Republicans behind them can still campaign as “tough on crime” candidates.

Work requirements and climate funds dominate farm bill debate
Congressional leaders want the 2023 farm bill – a multi-year law that includes funding and rules for agriculture and food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – to meet the needs of rural America. But they diverge on how to reckon with calls to impose strict work requirements as a condition of food assistance, and reallocate funding for climate initiatives to the farm bill. Stateline’s Adam Goldstein reports: 

[Sen. John] Boozman and [Rep. Glenn “GT”] Thompson, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, spoke in favor of changes to the work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program proposed by California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s debt limit and spending cuts bill. … [Sen. Debbie Stabenow] She added that the majority of SNAP assistance is directed to seniors, people with disabilities, families who have children or veterans.  “Taking $6 a day away from a mom and her kids, or a senior citizen, or a person with disabilities, or a veteran, is not a winning strategy for Republicans,” she said. “It’s just mean.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a helpful explanation of why work requirements don’t work, and make it harder for people to find and maintain employment. 

Number of the Day
– Estimated number of Americans that would lose health insurance if the Medicaid work requirements included in the GOP debt-ceiling bill become law. (Source: Congressional Budget Office via the Washington Post