Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Majority of states still have not seen revenues recover; Unusual allies oppose America’s policy of mass incarceration; Video game jobs come to Louisiana…with taxpayer support; and Constitutional amendments leave higher education in the cold

Majority of states still have not seen revenues recover

State revenues—which pay for everything from education to health care to public safety—took a massive hit during the Great Recession. But even with the economy slowly recovering, most states have still not seen revenues bounce back, reports the Washington Post. A study from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that overall state revenues were up 1.6 percent from the pre-recession peak near the end of 2008, but revenue was still down in 29 states.

Unfortunately, Louisiana ranked near the bottom, with revenue down 13 percent from its peak. Only four other states fared worse. While the economy is partly to blame, a big piece of the damage is self-inflicted. At the height of an artificial post-Katrina rebuilding economic boom, legislators unwisely slashed income taxes on upper-income households, putting the state on a trajectory that has led to years of deep budget cuts. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the long-term structural budget gap is as high as $1.5 billion. Legislators will find out on Friday if another round of mid-year cuts—the 6th in 7 years—will be needed when the Revenue Estimating Conference meets to update the state’s income forecast.

 

Unusual allies oppose America’s policy of mass incarceration

Here is a riddle: what do the Koch Brothers and George Soros have in common?

Here’s what: They all agree that America’s practice of mass incarceration—unique in the world—is at worst a moral and practical failure or at best an outdated policy badly in need of adjustment.

According to the Daily Beast, liberals and conservatives in states across the country have teamed up to tackle sentencing reform, push for more funding for public defenders and even to oppose the infamous “War on Drugs.” While many liberals and libertarians come at the issue from a civil rights perspective, conservatives have recently come to the table for moral and economic reasons too. With 2.3 million Americans in prison to the tune of $74 billion a year in tax dollars, more and more policymakers are starting to see America’s addiction to incarceration as a threat to both individual liberty and the government’s budget.

 

Video game jobs come to Louisiana…with taxpayer support

An industry-funded study from the Entertainment Software Association says 226 Louisianans were employed in the video game industry in 2012, with total payroll of $14 million, according to the Advocate.

“The video game industry has a strong presence in Louisiana, bringing innovative technologies and valuable economic contributions to the state — yet it has even greater potential,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of the Entertainment Software Association.

Left unsaid is that this “potential” is in part dependent on taxpayers. According to a Department of Economic Development report, the video game industry received $6.3 million in taxpayer subsidies in 2012. While this comes nowhere close to the hundreds of millions that go to movies and TV shows, it does leave that much less in funding for other priorities like education.

 

Constitutional amendments leave higher education in the cold

Three constitutional amendments that were approved by voters last week—specifically, Amendments 1 and 2 that gave special treatment to billions in funding for nursing homes, hospitals and pharmacists—will put higher education at risk, reports Nola.com.

“Now, you are just leaving higher ed unprotected,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, who plays a major role in developing the budget as head of the House Appropriations Committee. “It just takes another item off the agenda when you have a shortfall. Basically, now you just have higher ed.” 

Higher education has already been subjected to cuts in state funding over the last seven years. The state’s general fund support for higher education has dropped 46 percent since the 2007-2008 school year, according to the Louisiana House Budget Office.

 

NUMBER OF THE DAY

$74 billion—The amount taxpayers spend annually on mass incarceration in America (Source: Daily Beast)