Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The state of the state; Special session re-caps; What Americans think of their K-12 schools; and Feds propose damaging cuts

The state of the state

As Louisiana lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday for the start of the 2016 Regular Session, Gov. John Bel Edwards outlined a list of priorities that include raising the state minimum wage, equal pay between men and women and new constraints on charter schools and school vouchers. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Kevin Litten has the details:


…Edwards did not back away from some of the issues that are likely to be most controversial among Republicans. He said he wants to “redesign voucher eligibility” for students who benefit from school choice; raise the minimum wage to $8 on Jan. 1 and to $8.50 by 2018; and pass legislation that would make it illegal not to pay women the same as men performing the same work…. Edwards sought to frame the debate over the issues in terms of children, families and socioeconomic status. Knowing that the issues he’s pushing don’t always rank high among some social conservatives, Edwards said, “it’s time that we actually promote policies and legislation that value families, rather than just talking about family values.” … Edwards also spent time talking about changes he wants to make in Louisiana’s transportation system, including expanding mass transit. The governor set a goal of the state becoming “a leader in re-introducing passenger rail to the Gulf South” — a reversal of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies.


Edwards’ call for pay equity is especially timely, as new research shows that the gender pay gap continues to grow. Overshadowing the session will be the ongoing debate over the state budget, which remains far short of the money needed to finance Louisiana’s basic needs. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte explains:


With taxes off the table for the session, lawmakers will be left cobbling together a budget that likely will contain steep cuts across services – and talking about the possibility of a second special session on taxes to lessen some of the slashing. Edwards, in office since January, described the special session’s results as “lacking.” “As we begin this regular session, let’s get back on track,” he said. “Let’s make the most of the time we have here to improve our state.”


Special session re-caps

After a frenzied final hour of bill-passing last Wednesday evening, many observers were disappointed with the outcome of the special fiscal session called by Gov. Edwards to close the state’s budget gap. But new commentary from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana suggests that some worthy reforms made it through the three-week gridlock. Among them are changes to the state’s corporate income tax structure:


The Legislature passed an ambitious corporate income tax streamlining package in the special session. Voters will decide on a statewide ballot in November whether to pull the switch to put the new system in place. Currently, the state Constitution allows corporations to deduct the amount of their federal taxes from their income in figuring their state tax liability. If voters remove that deduction from the Constitution, corporations in exchange will get a flat state tax rate of 6.5%. The current rates are bracketed by income levels and range from 4% to 8%, with the top rate being higher than in other states in the Southeast. …  The state’s corporate income receipts would be less affected by up or down changes in federal tax law and regulation. The state also would have a lower and more competitive upper rate to attract business and would receive better corporate tax rankings from the Tax Foundation.


Meanwhile, the state’s largest business lobby is pushing back against charges that business isn’t doing enough to help solve the state’s budget problems. In a letter released Monday, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack says corporations aren’t being given enough credit:

Throughout the session, a handful of loud voices harped excessively that businesses were to be blamed for all that ails Louisiana. … The loudest allegation of late is that businesses do not pay taxes. The facts tell a different story. According to the independent Council on State Taxation, Louisiana businesses pay 43 percent of all state taxes and 58 percent of all local taxes for a total of just less than half of all taxes collected in Louisiana. In 2014, Louisiana business taxes added up to $8.9 billion for state and local government. … In the most recent year data is available, Louisiana’s state and local tax burden on business increased by 5.3 percent, which ranked No. 4 in the country for business tax increases. Obviously, the Louisiana ranking will likely go even higher due to the last two legislative sessions, where roughly 20 separate business tax bills were enacted to generate billions of new dollars for state government over the next few years.


What Americans think of their K-12 schools

Louisiana residents have little faith in the state’s public education system, according to a new Gallup poll that asked respondents to rate the quality and effectiveness of their state’s K-12 schools. Fewer than half of Louisianans said that the quality of the state’s public education was “excellent” or “good,” earning the state a spot near the bottom of the 50-state ranking. This lack of confidence could be contributed in part to Louisiana’s fiscal insecurity, according to the researchers’ analysis:


Gallup data reveal a strong relationship between states’ economic conditions and residents’ perceptions that their public education systems are providing high-quality education that will prepare students for workplace success. Public education systems require strong financial support at the state and local level, and challenging economic conditions can make it more difficult to provide the funding required for schools to deliver a high-quality education. Additionally, students living in states with higher unemployment rates may face different challenges in finding a good job. … Gallup data suggest that Americans believe a key component of a high-quality education is providing students with skills that can easily transfer to the workplace.


Feds propose damaging cuts

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has gained a reputation as a pro-work and anti-poverty advocate during his tenure in Congress. Despite his focus on helping those in need, however, House Republicans produced plans last week to slash the benefits that working Americans depend on through drastic budget cuts in 2017. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities president Robert Greenstein explains how these cuts, if passed, would hurt those living in poverty:


The proposals would: Increase the ranks of the uninsured and generate cuts in state Medicaid and children’s health programs by repealing a temporary boost in the federal matching rate for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and unduly restricting states’ own decisions to tax health care providers to help fund their Medicaid programs. … Significantly shrink funding for preventive health measures such as child immunizations; efforts to prevent heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; and programs to reduce tobacco use. … Push more people into — or more deeply into — poverty through an anti-immigrant provision that would deny the Child Tax Credit to several million low-income working families and their children, even though the vast majority of these children are U.S. citizens.


Number of the Day

$8.50 – Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed La. state minimum wage rate by 2018, identified during his State of the State Address Monday. (Source: Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)