Monday, October 19, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ballard: Poverty is the problem; Taxing the 1 percent; Graduating, but to what? and; Better policies needed in higher education

Ballard: Poverty is the problem

The Advocate’s Mark Ballard uses his Sunday column to zero in on the problem that undergirds Louisiana’s poor performance on any number of metrics – poverty – and asks why the candidates for governor aren’t talking about it more on the campaign trail.


One of every five people in Louisiana is living without enough money to provide for food and other basic needs, according to the federal government. About half the state’s households earn just enough to stay out of the poverty category, but not so much that they can survive the expense of a broken arm or major car repairs. This isn’t new. Louisiana has been near the top since 1959 when the poverty ratings were created. Poverty correlates with high crime, poor health, low wages and bad test scores in the public schools — all expenses carried by the rest of the state’s taxpayers. “A lot of the lists where we’re at the bottom come back to our endemic poverty,” said Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a Baton Rouge-based group once dismissed by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press secretary as a bunch of liberals. Jindal, however, agreed with Moller’s basic take on the issue after being elected, but before taking the oath.


Taxing the 1 percent

Lost in the thicket of presidential campaign rhetoric is a clarifying difference between the two major parties: The Democratic candidates are all proposing to raise taxes on the top 1 percent of income earners, while the GOP candidates are proposing to lower taxes on the same group. But what does that mean for the 99 percent of us who wouldn’t be affected by that change? Quite a lot, says The New York Times. Using data from the Tax Policy Center, the Times’ notes that households in the top 1 percent (average annual income: $2.1 million) pay 33.4 percent of their income in federal taxes.


Raising their total tax burden to, say, 40 percent would generate about $157 billion in revenue the first year. Increasing it to 45 percent brings in a whopping $276 billion. Even taking account of state and local taxes, the average household in this group would still take home at least $1 million a year. If the tax increase were limited to just the 115,000 households in the top 0.1 percent, with an average income of $9.4 million, a 40 percent tax rate would produce $55 billion in extra revenue in its first year.


That would more than cover, for example, the estimated $47 billion cost of eliminating undergraduate tuition at all the country’s four-year public colleges and universities, as Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed, or Mrs. Clinton’s cheaper plan for a debt-free college degree, with money left over to help fund universal prekindergarten.A tax rate of 45 percent on this select group raises $109 billion, more than enough to pay for the first year of a new $2,500 child tax credit introduced by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.


Graduating, but to what?

Jadareous Davis grew up and earned a high school diploma in Drew, Miss., but he might as well be from Louisiana or Alabama or anywhere else in the Deep South where the financial future for high school graduates – particularly African-Americans – remains tenuous. The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan takes a searing look at the way entrenched generational poverty plays out in the lives of men like Davis who are struggling against the odds  to reach the middle class.


Poverty rates in the South spiked higher in the aftermath of the recession and have been far slower to recover, rising to levels last seen three decades ago. And the young have endured the brunt of the pain. In 2000, the states of the Deep South — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina — all had child poverty rates worse than the national average, but they were spread loosely among the bottom half on a list of all states. Now, those five states have sunk to the bottom. Experts say that these troubles stem from the region’s difficulty adapting to an increasingly ­technology-based economy that has displaced traditional blue-collar jobs and put a premium on high-skill positions. The states of the Deep South have also declined to put in place policies that might help the young and their struggling parents — opting against expanding Medicaid, the health program for the poor, while carrying out some of the nation’s sharpest cuts in education spending.


“Overall, these are not places that have invested in the basic economic security that families need for their children to thrive,” said Patrick McCarthy, the president and chief executive of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charity that deals with disadvantaged youth.


Better policies needed in higher education

Each of the four major candidates for governor have promised to end the neglect of Louisiana’s colleges and universities that took root under Gov. Bobby Jindal. But they have mostly been short on specifics, though several have promised to boost state support so that campuses are less dependent on tuition. But The Advocate’s editorial board says the need for additional funding should not obscure the need for policy change at the campus level, and says the recommendations offered by Blueprint Louisiana offer a good, er, blueprint for change.


Blueprint backs the changes in TOPS scholarships passed by the Legislature this year but vetoed by Jindal, even though the modest reform package was backed by Phyllis Taylor, the godmother of the program named for her late husband, oilman and philanthropist Patrick F. Taylor. The Blueprint agenda also notes that higher education systems — there are four system boards, awash in financial troubles and political maneuvering — have to be able to make hard decisions about consolidating campuses and academic programs. In fact, we’ve seen too little creative policy from the boards of higher education and a deplorable trend toward boosting enrollment at all costs. Here is Blueprint’s take: “Unfortunately, the deep cuts to higher education in recent years are tempting Louisiana leaders to lower admission standards to instantly create new paying customers for some campuses. This is a mistake (albeit a well-intentioned one) that could begin to reverse student performance gains and expose unprepared students with academic failure and burdensome student loan debts.”


Number of the Day

5,200 – Number of patients in Louisiana whose health care would be unnecessarily disrupted if Gov. Bobby Jindal succeeds in cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood. A federal judge issued a restraining order on Sunday that blocks the cancellation of the group’s Medicaid contracts. (Source: