Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Hire NOLA deserves to stay; Minimum wage and equal pay on life support; Itemized deductions on tap for special session and; Broken bargain with college grads

Hire NOLA deserves to stay

Pressure is building on the House Transportation Committee to reject legislation that would take away the ability of New Orleans and other cities to require that their own residents get first priority in hiring for public works contracts. The Times-Picayune editorial board is the latest to weigh in on behalf of the “Hire Nola” ordinance, which would be null and void under legislation by Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie that is scheduled to be heard this morning.


The state shouldn’t hamstring cities that are dealing with serious problems like chronic unemployment, poverty and crime, as New Orleans is. Sen. Appel says he drafted his bill because he doesn’t want workers from outside New Orleans to be excluded by the city. “We’re not supposed to be putting barriers between the parishes,” he said in an interview last month. New Orleans’ law doesn’t exclude workers from other parishes. It only attempts to give city residents a shot at getting hired, which isn’t happening now for many of them. That would break down barriers for people who can’t get into workforce. The state shouldn’t derail their chances. Local workers are performing only about 21 percent of the work hours on major city contracts, the Landrieu administration has said. Even if contractors meet the city’s goals, most workers could still come from outside.


New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu weighed in on the topic last week:


City projects represent a crucial opportunity to connect well paid, career-track jobs to those who need them most. In the past, only a small percentage of that work has been performed by local workers. That is why local hire provisions like HireNOLA pose such a powerful opportunity — one that has positive ripple effects for the local economy, public safety and the well-being of our community. Unemployment rates in the city are particularly high, especially for black men, 52 percent of whom are out of work. High levels of unemployment exacerbate the already-high levels of poverty and crime in the city. Reducing the unemployment rate will help to lower violent and property crimes. In addition, those who are able to find employment when leaving prison are significantly less likely to be arrested again.


Minimum wage and equal pay on life support

The demise of equal pay legislation in a House committee last week was another blow for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative agenda. It comes as his proposal for a modest increase in the minimum wage is mired in a Senate committee and most of his education agenda failed to get out of committee. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte surveys the damage:


A Democratic governor was always certain to have troubles with a majority Republican House and Senate. But GOP lawmakers have made it clear the traditional deference that the Louisiana Legislature once showed a governor is ending. Edwards’ most recent defeat came Thursday when the House labor committee voted 10-5 against the governor’s Senate-backed measure requiring private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work.

Julia O’Donoghue of Times-Picayune picks up on the same theme, and notes that much of the governor’s agenda enjoys broad public support.


An independent LSU poll  taken earlier this year found that Edwards proposal to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour received about 75 percent support from Louisiana residents surveyed. An Edwards-backed poll also showed that there was overwhelming support for his equal pay legislation, though no independent statewide survey was done on this policy proposal. “These aren’t being held up for anything other than political reasons,” said Richard Carbo, Edwards’ spokesman.


Itemized deductions on tap for special session

Republicans in the Legislature continue to resist Gov. John Bel Edwards’ call for a special revenue-raising session in June. But all indications are that it will happen within a week of the Legislature’s June 6 adjournment. As The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports, the governor is likely to call for legislation that limits what taxpayers can deduct on their state returns.


What appears to be Edwards’ main vehicle to raise revenue during the special session would be to limit the deduction on state income taxes that individuals can claim from the itemized deductions they take on their federal tax returns that are in excess of the federal standard deduction — a move that would make middle- and upper-income taxpayers pay more. … This would raise about $150 million per year. A study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based group, shows that taxpayers who earn more than $103,000 would shoulder 76 percent of the tax increase.


Over in Lake Charles, the inimitable Jim Beam points out that the solutions to Louisiana’s structural budget deficits are no mystery. What’s missing is the political will to raise new revenue.


Therein lies the problem with fixing the tax and budget system. Similar bills also died at the session. A large group of Republicans in the House doesn’t believe anything else should be done until the fall when they think revenues might increase. The latest revenue estimates simply don’t indicate that is going to happen. Reluctant legislators have the same “pie-in-the sky” and “everything is going to be all right” attitudes that existed over the last eight years that got the state into its current financial dilemma. As we said at the beginning, the legislative will to solve serious tax problems simply isn’t there.


Broken bargain with college grads

With two weeks left in the legislative session, the spotlight is on the state budget – and, in particular, the continuing struggle to provide adequate funding for public colleges and universities. But as The New York Times points out in an editorial, a college degree isn’t enough these days to ensure a prosperous future. Wages for college grads have stagnated since 2000, in part because the U.S. economy is not producing enough jobs that require college degrees. What to do?


Federal help in paying for college is vital. But it is incomplete without commensurate federal efforts to create good jobs at good pay. Mr. Obama listed some reforms that could create new jobs and raise pay in existing jobs — and, in that way, help to power the economy. Modernize infrastructure. Raise the minimum wage. Reverse the dynamics that increase executive pay and depress employee pay. Close tax loopholes that enrich the wealthy, and give tax breaks to families to help pay for child care. Ensure that women earn equal pay for equal work.


Number of the Day

$128 million – Annual revenue Louisiana could realize if it legalized and taxed marijuana. (Source: Tax Foundation via