Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Louisiana state highways crumble without needed funding; What does your first grade self say about your future?; and Arkansas again shows that health care reform works if you want it to

Louisiana state highways crumble without needed funding

Every time a driver fills up at the pump, he or she pays a 20 cent per gallon excise tax that is meant to go toward road construction and repair. Unfortunately, not all of the money is going to pay for what it is supposed to. Of the $587 million in gas taxes collected last year, only $27 million ended up being used to maintain state roads and bridges. The rest was siphoned off to pay for old state bonds, re-directed to local governments or used to fill gaps in the state police operating budget, according to the Shreveport Times. Sen. Robert Adley, a member of a legislative task force set up to look at transportation funding, said voters approved gas taxes expecting roads to improve and the state needs to “stop robbing highway funds.”

It takes around $70 million a year just to maintain existing infrastructure, much less make improvements. With the state investing less than half that amount, it is no surprise that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Louisiana’s roads a D in its most recent report card. Making matters worse, because of inflation the purchasing power of the gas tax is on the decline, and it has not been adjusted in over two decades. Louisiana has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation, even as our infrastructure backlog is around $10 billion.

It likely won’t be enough to just “stop robbing highway funds” if Louisiana wants to move from the bottom to the top. Rep. Karen St. Germain, another member of the transportation task force, suggests reconsidering indexing the gas tax to inflation, which is unlikely to happen under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s watch. Ironically, regardless of whether legislators adjust the gas tax, taxpayers are on the hook either way: According to the ASCE, motorists in Louisiana spend $1.2 billion a year on vehicle repairs due to poor road conditions, which comes out to a $408 annual “hidden tax” per driver.

What does your first grade self say about your future?

Do your family circumstances in early childhood determine your future life outcomes? The Washington Post tells the story of a pair of Johns Hopkins’ sociologists who tried to answer that question by following a group of 790 Baltimore schoolchildren from first grade to age 28. The unfortunate answer? In large part, yes. Despite the American dream of social mobility and opportunity, the 25-year study found that children of middle-class and white blue-collar workers routinely ended up with better job prospects and more stable home lives than children from low-income families:

Over time, their lives were constrained — or cushioned — by the circumstances they were born into, by the employment and education prospects of their parents, by the addictions or job contacts that would become their economic inheritance. Johns Hopkins researchers Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle watched as less than half of the group graduated high school on timeA mere 4 percent of the first-graders Alexander and Entwisle had classified as the “urban disadvantaged” had by the end of the study completed the college degree that’s become more valuable than ever in the modern economy. A related reality: Just 33 of 314 had left the low-income socioeconomic status of their parents for the middle class by age 28.”

While the results of the study are discouraging, lessons can be gleaned from the “outliers” who managed to move up the social ladder, and their experiences suggest that public policy can make a difference in more children’s lives. From using tax credits to help “make work pay” for low-wage working parents, to investing more in summer school programs and job training opportunities, to sentencing reforms and diversion programs to keep more young men out from behind bars and in the labor force, there are interventions that can strengthen communities and help break the cycle.

Arkansas again shows that health care reform works if you want it to

Arkansas, a state not normally thought of as a health care leader, has emerged as one of the biggest health care reform success stories. Working together in a bi-partisan way, the state pioneered expanding private health insurance to low-income working adults and has seen one of the largest drops in the number of uninsured people of any state in the nation this year. Now, after rising 6 to 10 percent a year before health reform, insurance premiums will decline by 2 percent on average next year according to Gov. Mike Beebe, reports the Washington Post. Again and again, Arkansas shows that health care reform works when the governor and legislature come together to make progress. Unfortunately, here in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to say no, leaving nearly a quarter million people uninsured and depriving the state’s doctors and hospitals of billions in new federal funding.

NUMBER OF THE DAY: $408—The annual “hidden tax” per driver for vehicle repairs due to poor road conditions (Source: Shreveport Times)