Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

It’s Revenue Day on House floor; Taxing the poor?; Higher ed supporters bring H.E.A.T. to Capitol; and America’s war on the poor continues

It’s Revenue Day on House floor

After a week of closed-door negotiations, the full House is scheduled to start voting Thursday on nearly three dozen tax measures that aim to raise revenue to plug Louisiana’s massive budget deficits. Many of the tax proposals have drawn pushback from Republicans, who sent a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday asking for additional spending cuts and budget “reforms” before they’ll vote to raise revenues.  The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges explains:


Some Republicans have said it will be easier for Edwards to win approval for his proposed tax hikes — especially the penny sales tax increase — if he agrees to the Republican ideas, which aim to reduce government spending over the long term. … The letter Republicans sent to Edwards on Wednesday calls for “tax reform,” “fiscal control,” making state government more “efficient” and changing the state pension system. Times-Picayune’s Julia Donoghue takes a look at the GOP’s demands:  


The list of demands was fairly general, and looked similar to a previous list of requests sent from the Republican leaders to Edwards a couple of weeks ago. … About a quarter of the letter seems to indirectly reference Edwards’ proposal to increase the sales tax by a penny. Harris mentioned that any measure being used to raise money in the short term should have a sunset on it. The governor has repeatedly said he only wants to raise the sales tax as a short-term measure. … [Harris] is also asking Edwards to support “reform” efforts at the Department of Health and Hospitals, higher education institutions and the state pension system. He is not specific about what these reforms might entail.


The AP’s Melinda Deslatte, meanwhile, helpfully breaks down the various tax measures into categories, and tells us how much each are projected to raise .


Taxing the poor?
Louisianans would pay a 4 percent sales tax on basic necessities – groceries, prescription drugs and their gas and electric bills – under legislation that cleared the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee this morning. House Bill 81 by Rep. Major Thibaut of New Roads would strip the constitutional exemption from taxing those necessities, while a companion measure, House Bill  125, would change state law to allow those items to be taxed. While the bills still have a long way to go, they would represent a major setback for low-income families that already struggle to put food on the table and pay their electric bill each month. It also would mean the final unraveling of the “Stelly Plan” tax reform that voters approved in 2002.


An analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates it would raise almost $900 million a year. The bills now go to the full House for more debate.   


Higher ed supporters bring H.E.A.T. to Capitol

Student body presidents, college system leaders, and other supporters of higher education took to the Capitol steps Wednesday to protest the proposed cuts to Louisiana colleges and universities. Gov. Edwards made an appearance, vowing to “fix the problem” of the state’s historic budget deficit before the end of the three-week special fiscal session. Fears of cuts to TOPS and loss of entire academic programs on campuses brought students out en masse to urge lawmakers to find solutions. The Town Talk’s Leigh Guidry has more:


“(If you cut higher education), you’re cutting building blocks out of what makes our future society,” said Samuel Riehl, a sophomore at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The purpose of the rally, which included a live DJ and Southern University’s Marching Band, was for legislators to hear students’ concerns, which Gov. John Bel Edwards also encouraged. “What you’re doing here today, by standing up and making your voice heard, is critical during this period,” Edwards told students. “… We cannot afford to not invest in your future. … Make sure your legislators hear you.” University leaders agreed it was time for students to join the conversation.


America’s war on the poor continues

Cuts to the social safety net have made poverty a constant for millions of people in the United States. Especially since the welfare reforms of 1996 and the establishment of the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) block grant, cash assistance to the poor has declined dramatically as state governments divert funds to other state needs. Authors Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer shine a much-needed light on the deep poverty that has been left behind in the wake of attempted reforms in their book, $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. Peter Edelman with The American Prospect has the story:


Here is where we are now. Counting public benefits not included in the traditional poverty measure, about 15 million people are in deep poverty, with annual incomes below half the poverty line—about $10,000 for a family of three. What is even more shocking is the at least 4.5 million people with incomes far below that—an appalling two dollars a day. … Except in a very few states, welfare is indeed dead. And Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer have done more than anyone I know to show us the damage that has been done.


Number of the day:

$44 million – Proposed cut to Louisiana K-12 public schools in House Bill 122, passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday. (Source: The Advocate)