The $825 billion congressional stimulus bill that cleared the Appropriations Committee includes $471 million for Louisiana transportation projects and $57 million for local transit systems. Highway contractors, however, are dissatisfied. “It’s a major disappointment,” Associated General Contractors lobbyist Derrell Cohoon said. “They were saying this should be a jobs creation bill. It’s not what we expected. There’s all kind of stuff in that bill.” The House is pushing to get a bill on the president’s desk by mid-February, though the Senate version of the package of tax breaks and spending is still in committee.
—A major battle is brewing between the state Department of Education and local school boards. State Superintendent Paul Pastorek is asking the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to push bills in the next legislative session to put term limits on local school board members and to abolish their salaries. Pastorek also wants to give more power to local superintendents, and less to school boards, on hiring and firing and procurement decisions. Leaders of the school boards’ state organization say they will resist Pastorek’s initiative, which they see as an attempt to drive a wedge between superintendents and local boards.
—The Medicaid funding match bill, still in committee, contains two provisions that could pump more federal money into Louisiana’s program. One would keep the federal match at 32% for the coming year, when it was scheduled to be lowered to 28% because of an increase in personal income. The difference would be more than $200 million, according to state health officials. A separate provision would raise the federal match for all states by 4.8 percentage points. The combination of the provisions could add more than $400 million in federal funds to revenue projections for the next fiscal year, at a time when legislators are looking at a $2 billion shortfall. Congressman Charlie Melancon, however, cautions that one of those provisions could be dropped from the final measure. “By the middle of next week, we will have a better idea,” he says of the fast-moving bill.
(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)