One of the consequences of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policy of shrinking state government is the impact of cuts on good programs. But crisis is the mother of inconsistency, and once again the anti-government administration has tried to offset budget cuts by raising fees for some state programs.
This time, it was the Early Steps program for developmentally delayed children, run by the Department of Health and Hospitals. DHH sought a fee for families getting therapy or treatment for children through the program. DHH hoped to raise $1.7 million more a year.
Seems like small change in a $25 billion budget, but every bit of revenue is precious when the Jindal budget proposal is held together with string — one-time monies put into the operating budget, property sales that might not materialize and so on.
In defense of DHH’s proposed fee, other states have also set a fee for participation and Louisiana would cap payments by income levels. The poorest families would not pay, the department said. Any family with annual income of less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level — $55,884 for a family of four — would continue to receive the services for free.
DHH estimated about 2,000 families annually would have to pay a fee for the services, but those services are well worth the fees for the recipients.
However, that wasn’t enough reassurance for the state House, which rejected the fee bill. The increase, House Bill 375, failed on a vote of 50 for and 43 against, with 70 votes needed to raise a tax or fee.
Lawmakers objecting to the bill said the fee would cause some reduction in participation. Probably true.
The more-legitimate criticism is that the state is continually casting about for ways to raise fees, even as Jindal says he is totally against tax increases. In this case, the administration sought to put a fee on families of modest means to replace money that Jindal and the Legislature have lavished on tax cuts and breaks on higher-income families.
This fee proposal is defensible in itself, because the services are well worth the fees that would be paid. Were lawmakers wrong to reject it? They are right to worry about participation rates in such a worthwhile program.
On the other hand, in the larger context of the administration’s policies on taxing and spending, this is a small example of the hypocrisy of the governor and Legislature — consistently seeking ways to make the less fortunate pay for the tax cuts and breaks for those lawmakers really cater to.