Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Louisiana turns the page; Study: School vouchers hurt the poor; It’s about helping people; and Look who’s paying for dinner


Louisiana turns the page

The Bobby Jindal era in Louisiana ends at precisely 12:01 p.m. Monday, when Gov-elect John Bel Edwards is scheduled to take the oath of office on the Capitol steps. But the celebratory mood could be short-lived, as the new regime is charged with plugging more than $2 billion worth of budget gaps between now and June 30 covering the current and upcoming fiscal years. That will require new revenues – and much of Edwards’ term will be defined by his ability to raise the taxes needed to maintain basic services and reinvest in education and infrastructure programs needed to move Louisiana forward. The governor-elect lays out the sobering facts in an op-ed in The Advocate, noting that Jindal’s mismanagement and plummeting oil prices have conspired to create a generational challenge.


While you have heard talk of budget shortfalls in the past, these numbers clearly present us with a real fiscal chasm, deeper and more severe than earlier facts demonstrated to any of us. It is a chasm not easily crossed. Make no mistake, however. In this winter of discontent, there are no challenges we will not meet. Together with our Legislature, you and I must stabilize our state budget if we are to save and fortify Louisiana for our children and grandchildren.


And while long-term structural changes are needed to fix the chronic imbalance between state revenues and expenses, The AP’s Melinda Deslatte notes that the mid-year shortfall – estimated at up to $750 million – also presents a short-term cash flow problem.


To close the immediate budget gap will be complicated. The window for making cuts is small, and tax changes often take months to roll out, so the dollars don’t start pouring into the state treasury quickly enough for short-term problems. In addition, the Democratic governor will have to find solutions that a majority-Republican Legislature will agree to support. Talk has started of possible furloughs of state workers, sales tax hikes, cigarette tax increases, delays of tax refunds and other difficult options.


The editorial board notes that Edwards’ charge is not just to balance the budget, but to begin reinvesting in some of the programs that were cut during the Jindal years.


They need to not only erase the deficit, but also find ways to invest in essential state services. Higher education leaders badly want the state to restore some of the funding cut during the past eight years. The Board of Regents is asking for an additional $769 million in the new budget, which is roughly double what higher education got this year. There also are billions in unfunded highway and health care costs.


Study: School vouchers hurt the poor
A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research is casting a dim new light on Louisiana’s school voucher program – the controversial hallmark of outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education policy that allows students from poor families to attend private school at the state’s expense. As the International Business TImes reports,


The paper, which was issued in December, showed that attending a private school participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program would increase the likelihood of failing in math by a shocking 50 percent. “Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children,” the researchers wrote.


It’s about helping people
The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace got an interview with the new governor, where she tried to sift out John Bel Edwards’ political philosophy and the areas where he might differ from Bobby Jindal. The most obvious is the expansion of Medicaid, which Jindal opposed but Edwards plans to move forward with as early as Tuesday. And the minimum wage, which Edwards wants to raise to $8.50 an hour. Then there is his view of tax reform:


Edwards said he knows business interests are concerned they’ll bear the brunt and said he’s willing to work with them, but he also noted regular folks have faced increased costs during the Jindal years, from higher college tuition to higher fees. Later in the interview, Edwards volunteered that one of the things he hopes to accomplish by the end of his term is to make a dent in reducing poverty.


Look who’s paying for dinner
One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s last official acts as governor was to cut off food assistance to an estimated 64,000 low-income Louisiana adults, leaving them without $190 a month in federal support to put food on the table (a decision that’s being reversed by the incoming Edwards administration). Given the Jindal’s aversion to taxpayer-provided meals, it was surprising to learn that the Governor’s Mansion racked up a $241,422 grocery bill last year – more than $20,000 a month – all courtesy of Louisiana taxpayers. As Mark Ballard reports,


Taxpayers paid for the Jindals’ laundry and toothpaste, even their newspaper subscriptions. When the governor traveled, his luggage was sent ahead so he wouldn’t have to wait around at the airport.This is not to pick on Jindal — all Louisiana governors get the perks. The freebies are supposed to relieve some of the everyday burdens to free up time for work. But former governors say lagniappe also creates a special world that keeps the chief executive in a bubble.


Programming note
For our Baton Rouge readers, LBP Director Jan Moller will be on WBRZ-TV Channel 2 providing commentary on the inaugural ceremonies and the incoming administration starting at 11:30 a.m. Live coverage will also be streaming online.


Number of the Day


$750 million – Estimated budget shortfall in the current year that will have to be fixed by June 30, an amount equivalent to state support for higher education (Source: The Advocate)