House speaker calls for study of Louisiana’s tax exemptions
As state revenues continue to muddle along — defying proclamations of a “Louisiana miracle” touted by the governor and his aides — House Speaker Chuck Kleckley wants another comprehensive study of the state tax system. The new study will be an extension of last year’s Revenue Study Commission, which made a series of tax recommendations that were roundly ignored by policymakers. The study commission, whose recommendations were similar to ones made by LBP in a 2013 report, called for limiting the cost of tax exemptions, mandating sunset dates, conducting regular reviews of all tax exemptions and performing more cost-benefit analyses to make sure taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment. Louisiana spent close to $5 billion on tax exemptions in 2012 — up from $1.8 billion just a decade ago.
Jindal falsely characterizes Congressional Budget Office report
In a new op-ed for Politico Magazine, Gov. Bobby Jindal claims a new report by a non-partisan federal research office shows the Affordable Care Act will increase inequality by giving low-income Americans fewer reasons to work. This is a false characterization of the Congressional Budget Office report. What the CBO report actually stated was that the health-care law will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. As economist Dean Baker tells the Los Angeles Times, “[Obamacare helps] older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus.” The CBO report adds that Obamacare will increase the demand for goods and services by relieving lower-income people of the burden of healthcare expenses — allowing them to increase their spending on other things. In turn, that will “boost demand for labor.”
Teacher tenure debate continues
The debate over Gov. Bobby Jindal’s mass restructuring of Louisiana’s teacher tenure law is likely to extend well into the presidential election. Jindal made the reform a big part of his 2012 legislative campaign, saying the old law that allowed teachers to earn tenure after working three years made the job protections too easy achieve and too difficult to lose. The new law tied teacher evaluations to student’s performance, gave principals more authority in teacher evaluations and required teachers to earn top evaluation ratings for five out of six years before they could earn tenure. Many education professionals say the new law’s long-term benefits on education outcomes are questionable, and the state will face problems attracting the best teachers because the evaluation methods are not seen as fair. The state’s 19th Judicial District Court struck down Jindal’s reforms twice already, but the reforms remain law of the land until the state Supreme Court renders its decision sometime this year.
Public school teachers unlikely to see pay increases this year
Louisiana public school teachers received a last-second pay raise at the end of the 2013 Legislative Session, when the Legislature passed a budget that included an extra $69 million for schools — half of which was designated for teachers’ pay raises. While this year’s executive budget features a continuation of the $69 million, the funding comes without strings attached for school districts. That means Louisiana’s school districts can spend their funding on other needs, like retirement costs and technology upgrades, which they couldn’t address before due to budget freezes in prior years.
Medical marijuana legalization gaining traction in Deep South
Proposals to legalize medical marijuana are gaining momentum in several southern states. As The Associated Press reports, Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and this year powerful GOP lawmakers in Georgia and Alabama are putting their weight behind bills that would allow for the limited use of cannabis oil by those with specific medical conditions. Other Southern states are also weighing the issue with varying levels of support. While a bill legalizing medical marijuana has not been introduced in Louisiana, Gov. Jindal recently made headlines after announcing that he would “be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that.”