A statesman uses a budget to help people with disabilities. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards does it backward.
That seems obvious when reviewing how Edwards continues to frame his demands for retaining Louisiana’s oversized government. He claims that without permanent massive tax increases, he must make drastic cuts to Medicaid services, known as waiver programs, designed to assist those with disabilities.
This possibility, says his administration, forces it on May 1 to send letters to as many as 60,000 waiver recipients warning they will stop receiving services on July 1. Federal law requires notification 60 days prior to major programmatic changes. Louisiana’s next fiscal year budget, using current official projections and keeping existing spending levels, is almost $1 billion out of whack.
Edwards’ constitutionally required budget submission to the Legislature proposed a $286 million reduction in waiver programs. It was one of many cuts that were disowned by Edwards as if they were the devil’s spawn, leading him to call for more revenues.
Yet to fund that amount and then some, the Edwards administration could take several actions needing not a penny more in higher taxes.
Because of federal tax law changes, at present the administration estimates an extra $302 million will flow to state coffers. Additionally, higher-than-expected energy prices also will pad forecast revenues by tens of millions of dollars. Budgeters can use this additional money when the Revenue Estimating Conference formally recognizes it.
The REC meets whenever two of its four principals, one of whom is the governor or his designee, agree to do so. After already having missed a mid-March meeting deadline dictated by law, if the panel met within the next couple of weeks, the Legislature would have plenty of time to restore waiver spending by using the newly-recognized revenues, which then obviates any need for the letters.
But Edwards seems to prefer that the REC meet in the middle of May. This represents a curious reversal of his thinking behind the special session that ended last month, when he said the sooner the Legislature created new revenues from increased taxes, the greater certainty existed for maintaining waivers and other programs at current levels.
Changing how the state spends waiver dollars also can free up substantial sums to accomplish this. Moving these services’ provision to managed care would help more clients — with about 28,000 on waiting lists — for less cost, and it could happen by Edwards issuing a directive.
That would overcome lawmakers’ decision to sideline legislative instruments last week that would have required instituting a managed care approach in either fiscal year 2020 or 2021. Why wait? The Edwards administration already has the necessary information to submit an application to the federal government that could receive approval for a new approach by the end of June. Supporters of this concept say the budget would benefit by $100 million to $200 million.
And, passing Senate Bill 300 by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would save money by making these programs more efficient, although legislative staffers haven’t yet computed that number. This would allow direct support workers instead of nurses to perform some of the simpler medical tasks needed by waiver recipients. In the right environment, this works well. Just as with converting to managed care, the state doesn’t have to wait on legislation; the Edwards administration could promulgate the bill’s contents as regulations.
Edwards could pursue any or all of these avenues. Instead, in order to gin up support for his tax-and-spend agenda, he prefers spinning false budget choices to panic the state’s most fragile citizens, hoping they in turn pressure lawmakers into tax hikes. His passion to implement his big government ideology is understandable, but his use of persons with disabilities as pawns to do so is despicable.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com. When the state Legislature is in session, he writes about it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.