Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Budget “fix” will have to wait, Alario says; Louisiana leads the nation in cuts to higher ed; One bright spot in higher education funding and; Equal pay bill clears major hurdle

Budget “fix” will have to wait, Alario says

There is talk in the Capitol hallways, captured by Julie O’Donoghue of, that this is the year Louisiana legislators finally stand up to Gov. Bobby Jindal on the budget.


Mention of the “o-word” is far from rampant, yet a handful of leaders in the state House of Representatives said they would push for an override should Gov. Bobby Jindal veto the state budget ultimately sent to him by the Legislature. “I think that is an option,” Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said of a veto override after Monday’s (May 11) Appropriations Committee meeting. That comment came just days after Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said, following a series of tax votes, that they would consider overriding a Jindal veto of the state budget.


But Senate President John Alario throws some cold water on that notion in a revealing interview with The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges, where Alario lays out how a budget deal might come together that pleases anti-revenue activist Grover Norquist and, thus, wins the governor’s blessing.


“All of this will be short-term, we’re all admitting that,” Alario, R-Westwego, said in an interview Tuesday when asked about the various tax and budget plans under private discussion. “The hard work will come next year. We don’t have time now to come up with a long-term solution.”


Judging by Alario’s comments, the Legislature might actually leave the next governor with an even bigger budget problem to solve, as Norquist has apparently signed off on a scheme where the state’s corporate franchise tax would be phased out over time – but the entire value of the tax could be used as a “revenue offset” in next year’s budget.


Phasing out the tax could permit the Legislature next year to raise another $140 million in taxes, which is equivalent to the revenue the state is expected to collect from the franchise tax this year. Tim Barfield, the state Revenue secretary and Jindal’s point man on taxes this session, said phasing out the tax would improve Louisiana’s tax ranking among the 50 states and simplify the state’s tax code because the franchise tax generates a large number of audits and lawsuits for his department.


Of course, doing it this way also means the next governor and Legislature will have to find money in future years to make up for the gradual loss of franchise tax revenue – making the job of finding a permanent fix to Louisiana’s structural deficit even harder.


While the budget negotiations continue, The Advocate’s editorial board appears to have had enough of the  governor’s shenanigans.


What is clearly the case is that the governor’s budget was a fraud, proposing to raise most of its increased revenues by shifting hundreds of millions of costs to local government, a patently phony premise. It was a setup for the legislators and they know it. The problem for the state is that a budget structured along Jindal’s original proposal would be a catastrophe for Louisiana communities and our future. It’s high stakes and not just a game of cards.


Louisiana leads the nation in cuts to higher ed

As legislators struggle to re-balance the budget, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that no state has cut more funding from higher education, on a per-student basis, than Louisiana. As The Advocate reports, sparing colleges and universities from additional cuts does not make up for the drastic loss of state dollars since the start of the Great Recession.


Last year, Louisiana state funding for higher education showed a slight uptick — about $16 per student, or 0.02 percent. That nearly level funding was touted as a win and has emerged as the goal for the current legislative session. Several steps still remain in the budget approval process, and veto threats from Gov. Bobby Jindal loom. Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project and a participant in the CBPP report’s release, said the level-funding goal pales in comparison to the strides other states are making to restore funding to pre-recession levels. “The goal should be to start reinvesting in higher education so we can put more students on track to higher education,” he said. “Our economy has been growing since 2010, and yet year after year, we’ve been cutting funds for higher education.”


One bright spot in higher education funding

While Louisiana’s public four-year colleges and universities have seen huge cuts in recent years, the state’s Community and Technical College System has been able to maintain support and continue to grow. The Advertiser writes in an editorial that this has been a benefit to the state.


The two-year schools “produce workforce” — the skilled workers that Louisiana is supplying to businesses and industries that it is recruiting to the state.To that end, LCTCS has provided workers for computer science employees, welders, electricians, engineering technicians, construction workers, bookkeepers, nurses and industrial workers — sometimes in very short order to meet industry demands. The system has accomplished that by holding classes at night and on weekends, online and in the workplace. In short, the two-year schools have done what they needed to serve workforce needs.


Equal pay bill clears major hurdle

Employers in Louisiana would be required to pay women the same wages as men for the same work under a bill that cleared the state Senate on Tuesday over the objections of business lobbyists. As’s Emily Lane reports,


U.S Census Bureau data show women in public employment earn between 80 and 90 cents on the dollar, compared to men, said Julie Schwam Harris, the advocacy chair for the New Orleans-based Independent Women’s Organization, in a letter circulated to lawmakers before the vote. In private employment, the ratio is 61 cents to the dollar. Moreover, she said women make up half the workforce and nearly 40 percent of the heads of households. Current state law requires full-time female employees who work in state government to receive the same compensation as full-time male employees. Murray’s legislation proposes expanding current law by applying it to any employee who works for state government, local government or in the private sector.


Number of the Day

42 percent –Spending cut, per student, to higher education in Louisiana since 2008, on an inflation-adjusted basis (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).