House GOP spending control bills reworked, some scrapped
By MELINDA DESLATTE
Feb. 27, 2018
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — House Republican leaders have jettisoned some spending-control proposals they once described as critical to getting GOP support for tax votes in Louisiana's special session. Other ideas have been watered down, and the remaining package is part of the larger tax negotiations, subject to tweaking, as it awaits a House debate scheduled for Wednesday.
Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras issued an ultimatum of sorts before the session began, telling Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards that the package of items labeled as "budget reforms" must pass in exchange for tax votes to help close a nearly $1 billion budget gap without making deep reductions to state services.
But at least two of the proposals carry significant price tags, even as GOP lawmakers describe them as efforts to rein in long-term spending.
Efforts to require cost-sharing for some Medicaid patients, such as co-pays for services, have been shelved amid opposition from both Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans have moved forward with a measure aimed at requiring some adult Medicaid recipients to work. But that bill has been substantially gutted, leaving most decisions to Louisiana's health secretary for the work-requirement design and barring loss of health coverage for those who don't meet the mandate.
Also, the program pitched to control state spending is estimated to cost millions to set up a tracking system — and the work requirement would begin only if lawmakers agree to spend the money.
Rep. Frank Hoffmann, the West Monroe Republican sponsoring the bill, said it would encourage unemployed Medicaid recipients to seek jobs or skills training. He said research shows that people who are employed are healthier.
"This is intended to help people, not hurt people," Hoffmann said.
Edwards supports the proposal. But Democrats on the House health committee objected.
"I think we're labeling and promoting some false stereotypes," said Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat.
The most cost-controlling proposal in the package would rework Louisiana's cap on annual spending growth. The constitutional change requires a two-thirds legislative vote.
The current cap limits growth in state spending using a three-year average of state personal income growth, with some exceptions of what's included in the spending base. Barras' proposal would use income growth average, along with calculations involving the state income forecast, state population growth and the regional Consumer Price Index.
Edwards and Republican Senate President John Alario have expressed concerns.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the formula is so restrictive it could trigger two-thirds votes for even minor midyear budget adjustments. Alario said that under Barras' formula, Louisiana would have been restricted to below its own revenue forecast for three of the past 10 years.
"I'm for some serious, some fair expenditure limit, but I don't want something that's going to tie the hands of the Legislature," Alario said.
Barras said his formula would have the state "bumping up to the limit more often," which would require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers to breach. But he added: "That's the point of this exercise."
House Republicans and the Edwards administration are at odds over a one-stop website detailing how every state budget dollar is spent.
GOP lawmakers, conservative organizations and business groups are promoting a searchable website they're calling Louisiana Checkbook , modeled after an Ohio website that has a Google-style search bar, interactive charts and downloadable data.
Supporters say it will cut costs by making spending more transparent.
Dardenne said planned improvements to an existing website called LaTrac will offer searchable information that Republicans are seeking, without needing to spend additional money on an outside contractor as the GOP legislation suggests.
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