- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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March 31

The American Press on Medicaid births:

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that almost a majority the states in this nation have 50 percent or more of its babies born on the Medicaid program.

Louisiana ranks third in the nation for babies born on Medicaid, at 65 percent, with New Mexico leading the nation at 72 percent and Arkansas third at 67 percent.

Medicaid is the federal government program that was originally designed in 1965 to bring health care to poor people, but has been expanded now to include people who are 133 percent above the federal poverty level. The Kaiser Family Foundation is a California based, nonpartisan organization to focus on health care issues and provide accurate facts, statistics and information to the public.

Medicaid is paid for by a combination and state and federal funding. Of course all taxpayers pay taxes at the state and federal levels and so the funding comes out of the pockets of the same taxpayers.

Is such a high level of Medicaid use sustainable financially? According to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicaid expansion could add up to 13 million new individuals to the program by 2023, almost entirely consisting of healthy adults.

While the federal government will pay for expansion 100 percent for three years, the federal contribution will fall to 90 percent by 2020 and into perpetuity. But all federal taxpayers of also state taxpayers and the money is coming from the same pockets.

In 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available, United States taxpayers paid $532,233,348,782 for Medicaid. Louisiana taxpayers spent $8,058,371,246 on Medicaid that year. Surely, with Medicaid expansion, that cost must be increasing.

The Congressional Budget Office projected that Medicaid’s net mandatory outlays would be $598 billion by 2017, escalating each year to $1.1 trillion in 2027 - just 10 years from now.

Everyone wants to help babies be born healthy and that is certainly a worthwhile goal. But we also have to be aware of the financial realities involved in government health care programs. Those programs, if we are to be responsible, should be financially sustainable for the future as well as for the people currently enjoying the benefits.

Online:

https://www.americanpress.com

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April 4

The Advertiser on taxes for infrastructure maintenance:

Louisiana has little taste for tax increases, but its developing appetite for better roads and bridges may demand them.

The state lags some $13 billion behind on infrastructure maintenance; an orchestrated push for more revenue is driving state leadership to weigh a gasoline tax increase.

The governor’s task force on transportation infrastructure took six months to consider the state of Louisiana’s highways and bridges and develop “actionable recommendations.” That means legislation for taxes and at least some lawmakers these days are making that case.

That’s what happened in Lafayette last week. State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, told a One Acadiana gathering he sees no choice but taxes if Louisiana is going to improve highways that lead to federal interstates, roads that some 85 percent of the state’s drivers use to get to the likes of Interstates 10 and 49 in south Louisiana. State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the gas tax is the easiest path to generate money quickly.

House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, suggested a month ago that there is “some sense” among House lawmakers that an increase is needed to tackle necessary, unfunded projects. The bigger questions, he suggested, are how much and how do lawmakers guarantee new revenue goes to roads and bridges.

The imminent case for better infrastructure is easy to make. The American Society of Civil Engineers says 26 percent of Louisiana’s 61,419 miles of roadway are in poor condition. (Which one of every four miles in this state would you like to take your chances on?)

A national transportation group’s study, released last week, showed Lafayette drivers lose some $2,000 a year because of operating costs, congestion and crashes on Louisiana’s overmatched roads. The verdict from One Acadiana’s Jason El Koubi: “This report underscores the critical need for Louisiana to invest more in our transportation infrastructure.” Probably so.

El Koubi says the current 20-cent gas tax is unsustainable because vehicles get better gas mileage than when it was set; thus, there are fewer gallons purchased and taxed. Yet there are more vehicles on the road, and more stress on the pavement.

The gas tax may be more palatable than other taxes because it is user generated: Drivers pay. Right now, gasoline pump prices are low and may stay there awhile, salving payer pain.

But if Louisianans must pay, they must demand their money go to roads they travel. Barras has said as much. An increase will likely be much less than the 23 cents the task force suggested and will be “tightly wound” around how the money is spent.

That should mean “dedicated,” in some sense. People must know where their money will go - which roads? which bridges? - and must see real improvements in the roads before them.

Online:

https://www.theadvertiser.com

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April 5

The Advocate on college credit for high-school students:

Nobody can argue with the bit of political folk wisdom from Chris Broadwater: “The answer is money. What is the question? That is one of the challenges we have.”

The Hammond state representative was referring to the layers of educational institutions and their staffs that must work together to achieve what everyone believes is a worthy goal: more college credits earned by high-school students in the dual-enrollment system.

The problem is not with the good intentions of the various players in the system, but the fact that services — teacher time included — cost money.

The challenge Broadwater spoke about continues, despite a strong push at the state level for more dual enrollment classes, allowing students to get credit on both their high school and college transcripts for the same course.

Students certainly have the time, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education.

Figures show 46.5 percent of public high school seniors do not take a full course load, with lots of students wrapping up their week by noon Friday. But costs of the extra courses, who pays for them, who teaches them and where they are taught are just a few of the hurdles in the way of expansion.

Education Superintendent John White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are seeking an additional $10 million in funding this year to boost the classes, but that is only a part of the funding needed, White said.

The courses’ fees are good for colleges and particularly Louisiana’s relatively new community colleges, but even so, extra costs challenge the system. Public and private students took part in more than 47,000 dual enrollment classes in 2015-16, according to the latest figures available.

Enrollment was about evenly divided between the state’s 14 public universities and 15 community colleges.

Roughly 45,000 high school students meet the Regents’ criteria to take the classes.

“It is probably fair to say we are not fully taking advantage of the number of kids who would be interested in dual enrollment and the number of kids who are going to college and could use those credits,” White said.

In some cases, there is no charge. Other schools charge $300 per course in schools.

Tuition can be up to $800, depending on agreements between schools and colleges.

One out of five students in dual enrollment is charged by the school system, according to data from White’s department, and one wonders why students should pay for what is supposed to be free public education.

Commissioner of Education Joseph Rallo said the best way to teach students is at a college or for college faculty to do the instruction in the high school. That though, involves time and thus costs.

A similar tangle of good intentions and practical difficulties hurts the effort to offer more Advanced Placement classes in high schools. Despite a five-year push for a big expansion of AP, the state ranks near the bottom among states in the percentage of students who qualify.

Whatever the difficulties, the result of well-taught AP or dual enrollment classes can mean savings for students when they go on to college. Those goals are worth pursuing, even if institutions incur more expenses.

Online:

https://www.theadvocate.com

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