Thursday, March, 24, 2016

Thursday, March, 24, 2016

More cuts on the way; Short-term fixes not enough; Charter schools vs. vouchers and; Crime falls, incarceration rises

More cuts on the way

An expected showdown between  the House and Gov. John Bel Edwards over line-item vetoes failed to materialize on Wednesday, as the lower chamber instead voted to sustain the governor’s decision to restore some funding that legislators had proposed cutting. But that still leaves a $70 million shortfall in the current fiscal year must be dealt with, which means more midyear cuts are coming. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press has more.


Edwards planned a Thursday news conference to describe how he intends to reduce $70 million in state spending before the budget year ends June 30. Edwards announced last week that he was using his line-item veto to strip $9.8 million in budget cuts approved by lawmakers in the recently ended special session to help rebalance this year’s budget, suggesting the reductions pushed by House Republicans were too deep. Those included cuts to the state agency that oversees the Superdome and the sports arena in New Orleans, the state racing commission, the Louisiana State Police and the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. But at the time he unveiled his line-item vetoes, the governor also said he intended to enact smaller cuts to those agencies, except the tourism department. The net result was that Edwards intended to decrease the cuts by about $4 million.


Short-term fixes not enough

The Advocate’s editorial board is not happy with the results of the special session, where lawmakers failed to raise enough money to plug the state’s massive budget shortfalls and made virtually no progress in addressing the structural gaps between Louisiana’s revenues and spending. The newspaper cites the work of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development – a business group – in arguing for long-term reforms to the state’s tax structure.


“Because we are now facing the eighth consecutive year of midyear cuts caused by budgets based on grossly overestimated revenues and underestimated expenses … our options are extraordinarily limited,” the committee said. “The $2 billion of midyear cuts since 2008 have burned through our safety margins and reserves while we have experienced multiple years of disinvestment in higher education and health care, both of which facilitate the success and well-being of our citizens and our economy.” Colleges’ accreditation is among the valuable assets at risk, the statement said, as are the public-private partnerships overseeing public hospitals. The record of the special session was in short-term fixes, particularly the bills making Louisiana the highest state in the nation for combined state and local sales taxes. The sales taxes, the committee said, “will create the revenue that our state needs quickly but is not a sound means of financing our state’s operations for any longer than is necessary.”


Charter schools vs. vouchers
Two of three Louisianans favor charter schools (public schools run by private entities), but only about half of all residents support private-school vouchers, according to a new poll by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.  The Advocate’s Will Sentell points out that the issues may cause controversy this legislative session for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ education agenda .

Edwards wants to make it harder to launch charter schools and wants to put new limits on vouchers, which are state aid for students from low-income families to move from troubled public schools to private schools…Under current rules, a charter school applicant whose bid is rejected by a local school board can take the proposal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Edwards wants to end those appeals in school districts rated A or B, which is nearly 60 percent of the districts in Louisiana.  About 7,100 students are using vouchers this school year, mostly in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Current rules allow access to the aid for students attending public schools rated C, D or F.  Edwards wants to trim that eligibility to D and F schools only, in part because he says vouchers were set as an alternative to failing, not average, public schools. Opponents to Edwards’ position argue that the state’s school grading system is so inflated that even C-rated schools should be covered by voucher options.


Crime falls, incarceration rises
A new report from William A. Galston and Elizabeth H. McElvein of the Brookings Institution contextualizes the simultaneous drop in overall crime rates by 45 percent from 1980 to 2012 in the United States, while the incarceration rate has swelled by nearly 340 percent in the same period. The U.S. incarceration total has reached over two million individuals, at a cost of $80 billion. They argue this results from always-changing public opinion:

[Public policy choices] vary with the nation’s political mood. In the mid-1970s, for instance, reformers championed statutory sentencing standards, including mandatory minimums, to address “racial and other unwarranted disparities” in the criminal justice system. A decade later, responding to surging crime rates and widespread concern about public safety, state and federal lawmakers enacted tough new measures—mandatory minimum laws, three strikes laws, and life in prison without the possibility of parole, for instance—to target violent and drug offenders. Another contributor to high incarceration rates is the return rate of those who are released. Most (76.6 percent) offenders recidivate within five years of being released from prison, a striking trend observable across demographic categories. Cyclical incarceration imposes tremendous costs on individuals, families, and communities. Upon being released from prison, individuals faced legal barriers to employment, housing, and voting. Families with incarcerated loved ones suffer financial losses due to lost income. Studies show that children with incarcerated parents exhibit more negative behavioral, academic, and emotional outcomes. These so-called “collateral consequences” compound and destabilize community support systems.


Number of the Day:
26 – The number of parishes whose residents have been granted an automatic extension until July 15 to file income taxes due to recent weather events. (Source: Times Picayune)