Louisiana’s budget for the financial year of 2017 has undergone a severe cutback and is now sitting at an awkward $600 million. Jay Dardenne, the Commissioner of Administration said in an official statement during the Senate Finance Committee, that the reduction is due mainly to estimation changes in the number of people who will continue to use the current healthcare system (Medicaid) and the projected savings for a preplanned expansion of the Medicaid. Under the newly proposed expansion, the administration of the Gov. John Bel Edwards, the chief financial adviser says that the state of Louisiana can exploit of better rates of federal financing for health services that the state is currently providing for the unemployed and uninsured.
On Monday, he also told the state senators in the meeting that a gap once pegged at $750 million is lower for the July 1 deadline of the new financial year. People like Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell felt uncomfortable with the wide oscillations in the health budget estimates, saying that it blew her mind that the budget could change that quickly. Dardenne said that the figure for the shortfall could continue to oscillate sporadically as the Edwards administration tries to take advantage of other financial resources while still looking for various ways to trim the state spending.
In order to put a lid on the gapping $600 million pitfall, the Democratic governor is proposing belt-tightening across most of its agencies, the college education program called TOPS which is taking a major hit, and to the safety net healthcare services for the state’s more financially disabled. He is also looking forward to a special financial advice session in June to consider more changes in tax that could reduce the brunt of the cuts. Many senators have started questioning Edwards’ proposal to only set aside an estimated one-third of the approximately $300 million needed for all eligible students to cover tuition costs. Dardenne said that an additional minimum of $185 million would ultimately be needed to keep the program; Edwards insisted that other portions of the stipulated budget could be redirected to TOPS as needed.
The remainder of next year’s budget proposal is expected to be unveiled in front of the House Appropriations Committee within the two weeks. Dardennea and some of the administration members remain highly skeptical about some of the budget-balancing ideas they have heard from House members. Senator Conrad Appel, R-Metairie claimed he would have liked the current budget plan more if the governor had presented a long term strategy with it.
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The Department of Justice has tasked a third party to take over operation of the troubled New Orleans jail, pointing out to the federal court in question that the Marlin Gusman, the city’s sheriff has been failing year after year to improve the dangerous living conditions of inmates. The lawyers of the inmates supported the government in the move holding Gusman in contempt for noncompliance and negligence, and agreeing to settlements for major overhauls in the jail’s structure and intergrity. The justice Department believes that the new leadership will change the overall look of the jail conditions, and lead to better rehabilitation.
The Justice Department made a statement in the court saying although it is beyond doubt that such a level of remodeling the system is an out of the ordinary solution, so is the amount of endless harm that seems to continue plaguing the jail. The office made the request stating that history of the ongoing case, the state of the consent judgment compliance and the dangerous living conditions for inmates show that the only way to keep everyone happy is receivership. While Gusman did not respond to initial mails, he has repeatedly stated since his election In 2004 that he has tried to make progress to jail reforms and blamed the city for its meager budget.
Although inmates were shifted to a new unit last September, stated a court-appointed monitor that violence had continued building up to an inmate’s suicide in March. Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center and an attorney for inmates says she felt it was unfortunate that things had gotten to the point that an outside administration had to be brought in. Since the jail’s initial federal scrutiny which started in 2008, there has been over a dozen unnatural deaths, scandals and more than one lawsuit against it. It was also clear that the clearly didn’t want to adhere to the consent that had been in effect 2012.
The administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu meanwhile remains highly critical of Gusman’s management tactics. The city funded the jail and its planned upgrades, while Gusman operated it. Back in 2013, when the city had asked Lance Africk, a U.S. District Judge, to shift the jail in receivership, he had rejected the plea but had not ruled our receivership as a future remedy to the jail’s upkeep. The proposed receiver for the jail would have the complete authority to manage the jail as they see fit, including the ability to promote, discipline and fire employees, create contracts for jail services and decide how the allotted budget should be spent.
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