Aug. 17: Flooding brings infrastructure deficits into focus

Aug. 17: Flooding brings infrastructure deficits into focus

Flooding brings infrastructure deficits into focus

As South Louisiana starts recovering from this week’s catastrophic floods, attention is also shifting to  unfinished flood prevention infrastructure projects. A diversion canal project, on the books for at least 16 years when several parishes approved a property tax, may have prevented some of this past week’s flooding, yet was never completed due to lack of funds. The Advocate’s Steve Hardy reports:

At last count, the Army Corps estimated the canal would cost somewhere around $211 million. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, an advocate for the canal, said the whole process is “broken.” “What is so frustrating about this is … you spend billions of dollars after a disaster instead of millions of dollars before,” Graves said. The Army Corps has said that the canal has not been dug because they have never received sufficient funding. Graves, however, has accused the Corps of dragging its feet and earlier this year called for them to be booted off the project so it could be given to the state or the Basin Commission.

With 40,000 homes affected along the I-10 and I-12 corridors, it is clear that flood control is no longer just a coastal and Mississippi River problem. Northern and Central Louisiana faced their own disasters earlier this year.  These events are likely to unify state leaders behind efforts to get more money from  Washington. But it will further pit regions against each other for infrastructure funding in the state capital outlay budget. Jeremy Alford has more on the tasks ahead for state leadership:

On the state level, coastal lawmakers who have traditionally pursued flood protection projects through the state’s capital outlay program, for annual construction needs, will soon be joined by their colleagues from Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport and elsewhere. It’s already a competitive process, with only so much money to go around, and determining which regions have the greatest need will be a monumental task. There are all sorts of expenses to come for a state dealing with one budget deficit after another. Roads and bridges will need repairs, along with other state-owned properties.


Pell grants for prisoners

The Second Chance Pell initiative is aimed at showing that prison inmates who complete college-level training are less likely to end up back in jail and more likely to re-integrate into their communities once they get out. At the height of the tough-on-crime era, inmates were banned from access to Pell grants, a federal need-based subsidy. Blogging for the Brookings Institution, William A. Glaston and Elizabeth McElvein, point out the known benefits:

One oft-cited study from the RAND Corporation found that on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not. The study also found that among inmates who participated in academic or vocational correctional education programs, the odds of obtaining employment post release were 13 percentage points higher than for those who had not participated…Expanding educational opportunity to incarcerated students is just as much a matter of rehabilitating individuals as it is a matter of fostering safe communities. Current rates of recidivism in the United States stand at over 75 percent after five years of release.  


Mrs. Taylor and the TOPS program

Increasing the education level of Louisiana’s general population by expanding the number of college going residents was the original intent of the TOPS program according to Phyllis M. Taylor, the program founder’s widow. Contrary to current rhetoric, the aim was not to keep the best and brightest in the state, as they were already attending college. Writing in The Advocate, Taylor further explains the original structure of the program:

I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out that TOPS was never a program targeting high-performing students. If you go back to the origination of the concept, before it was named “TOPS,” it was a need-based program to provide opportunity to children of our state that would otherwise not be able to further their education after high school. The second and equally important factor of the program was the requirement that the student complete a college core curriculum with a 2.5 GPA in those courses. The student was also required to make a 19, now 20 on the ACT.


Exclusionary zoning restricts opportunity

Land use restrictions, particularly those that limit multifamily developments, can have a major impact on inequality. Richard V. Reeves and Dimitrios Halikias of the Brookings Institution present evidence of the negative impact of zoning restrictions, which distort the housing market, constrict the supply of affordable housing, and can keep families struggling to make ends meet out of higher opportunity neighborhoods. They cite one study that shows the U.S. economy is fourteen percent smaller due to constraints on the supply of housing. The authors contend that it will take significant political will to push back against these restrictions:

Zoning is one form of “opportunity hoarding” that sharpens the divisions between ordinary and upper middle class Americans (a theme I develop in my forthcoming book, Dream Hoarders). There are hopeful signs that state legislators are waking up to this problem. Two separate bills in the Massachusetts state legislature, for example, would have required towns to create more multi-family zoning districts, though both died in the session that ended this July. Given the powerful vested interests involved in exclusionary zoning, reform will require some serious political determination.


Number of the day

60,000 – South Louisiana residents who had registered for FEMA disaster assistance as of Tuesday. (Source: Gov. John Bel Edwards)