Budget issues, Medicaid face LA legislature

By James Ronald Skain
Journal Correspondent

"The two major questions that we have to answer this session are first of all, whether Louisiana should accept the Medicaid money from the Federal Government, and secondly how do we balance the budget?'' Senator Gerald Long of Winnfield told the Piney Woods Journal on April 23.

"The first problem from the legislature's prospective on the Medicaid money is that the decision to accept or not accept the money is really the Governor's decision and we will have little input on his final decision," Senator Long elaborated. "I personally hope that the Governor will set aside politics and take a real hard look at the Medicaid scenario as to what is best for the citizens of Louisiana. If the wrong decision is made, I'm afraid that many people will 'fall through the crack' by not having access to health care."

"For example, with the closing of the Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge and shifting its services to the LSU System could result in people having to travel further for treatment and wait hours longer in line to see a doctor," Senator Long noted. "Many people who are seriously ill maybe become frustrated with the difficulty of getting to the hospital and then waiting for hours to see a doctor, and just give up on the system."

"The closing of the Earl K. Long Hospital is really putting us into unchartered waters," Senator Long said. "We have no point of reference to look to as to what will be the outcome of closing that hospital nor by rejecting the Medicaid money from the Federal government."

"By law, our community hospitals around the state are required to treat whomever comes to them for service," Senator Long acknowledged. "The wrong decision on Medicaid could overburden our community hospitals and without a comprehensive health care program in place, our state budget could get more out of balance."

"We have to realize that Health Care is a huge part of our state budget, whether we like it or not," Senator Long stated. "Congress has given us so many mandates to fulfill as to health care, we don't really know how much they will cost the state. I don't want to see us have to make additional changes in the middle of our budget year. Although the economy is showing signs of improving, it is still in limbo," Senator Long said. "The economy is not yet creating good jobs that will really help people financially nor generate tax revenues."

"From the standpoint of our state budget, we are unsure as to the true numbers on the revenue that we will have to work with," he added. "I think it is safe to say that for all practical purposes, our tax revenues are down. Since the Governor's Tax Reform Bills were in essence 'dead on arrival,' we are in state of flux as to what revenue we are going to have to work with," Senator Long explained. "The estimates on how much the proposed budget is out of balance, varies from a low of $700 million to a high of $1.4 billion."

"We need for the Governor to step up and submit another budget and lead the way on balancing the budget," Senator Long stated. "He should not just sit back and leave it to the Legislature to figure out just because his tax reform bills were dead on arrival."

"The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has pulled all the tax bills at this time," Senator Long pointed out. "So, we have our work cut out for us whether the real deficit turns out to be $700 million or $1.4 billion."

"The big question is how are we going to balance any budget until we have an accurate picture of how much revenue that we have to work with and whether it is recurring money or one time money," Senator Long, who is now serving his second term in the State Senate questioned.

"Typically, as a session of the Legislature moves past the halfway point, we see all the parties involved begin to take a more common sense approach to the budget issues," Senator Long emphasized. "I hope that will happen in this session. But as of this point, we are in a wait and see scenario, a definite Catch 22 situation," Senator Long said.

Senator Long has introduced one interesting bill that could have far reaching positive effects on family owned agricultural enterprises.

"We have so many family farm owners nearing retirement age, that unless a family member takes their place, we could lose very a large number of family owned farms in the very near future," Senator Long, a Northwestern State University graduate in education pointed out. "My bill gives some tax incentives to the younger generation of farm families not to leave the business, but continue its operation when their parents reach retirement age."

"To maintain our state's family farms for the future is very important to us," Senator Long acknowledged. "The same is true for our loggers, who have traditionally been family oriented and their business is passed down from generation to generation."

"Our legislative session in 2012 was filled with bills and plans for education, but this year, to my knowledge, we don't have any significant education bills in the mix," Senator Long added. "Everyone is waiting for the courts to make decisions on the voucher program and the changes in the teacher tenure system."

"During the session, no matter how challenging or strenuous it gets, I try and remind myself that I applied for this job by running in the election," Senator Long concluded. "Whatever challenges we face in the legislature, I will always make an honest effort to honorably and effectively serve the people of my Senate District."