Sept. 19: There is still a budget crisis

Sept. 19: There is still a budget crisis

Although the economic activity spurred by the recent flooding is expected to produce a temporary uptick in state revenues, The Advocate editorial board reminds us that Louisiana remains in a precarious fiscal state.

There is still a budget crisis

Although the economic activity spurred by the recent flooding is expected to produce a temporary uptick in state revenues, The Advocate editorial board reminds us that Louisiana remains in a precarious fiscal state. The $400 million bridge loan authorized by the Bond Commission last week is just the latest sign that the state’s cupboards are bare as the needs continue to pile up.


The good news? So far, Wall Street is not turning on Louisiana. After a $187 million bond sale for state construction projects, the state’s financial advisors and Treasurer John N. Kennedy said they were pleased at the interest rate received: “Because of the uncertainty with the flooding, housing and other losses, I really thought our rate would be higher,” Kennedy said after that meeting. Uncertainty, though, is going to be chronic for a while. Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state’s delegation in Congress secured presidential approval for the federal government to bear 90 percent of the disaster response costs, up from the typical 75 percent in disasters. That goes a long way for both state government and local bodies like cities and school boards. But in every case, the local match for aid is going to cost the state. Louisiana is far from out of the woods, even if the high water has receded most places.


Our broken indigent defense system

Columnist Jarvis DeBerry reviews the Marshall Project’s devastating investigation into Louisiana’s broken system of indigent defense and concludes that the state isn’t serious about making sure that accused criminals get a fair trial. The report found that some defendants languish in jail for months without representation, while others are forced to accept lawyers with no experience in criminal law.


We might embrace the theory of the presumption of innocence, but many of us are strangely tolerant of suspects getting punished for their inability to afford attorneys and the state’s inability – no, let’s just call it a refusal – to provide them.  Refusal is the more appropriate word because if Louisiana really wanted poor people to have lawyers, then poor people would have lawyers.  They don’t because the state doesn’t believe their having lawyers is a priority.


Kicked out of kindergarten?

More than 1,000 Louisiana kindergarten students were forced to miss school for disciplinary reasons during the 2015-16 school year, according to information provided to a commission looking at school suspensions. The Advocate’s Will Sentell writes that 181 pre-K students also were among the nearly 60,000 public school students who were suspended last year, and that those suspended were disproportionately African American, low-income and disabled.


“I am absolutely shocked that you can have a kindergartener that has an experienced an out-of-school suspension,” said Sherlyn Shumbert of Baton Rouge, a member of the Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline. The 24-member committee stems from a 2016 state law. The group is supposed to study school discipline policies, then provide annual reports to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and legislative committees. The topic has sparked disputes in the Legislature, including efforts to ban suspensions for the youngest students. But others said the discipline is understandable, and that it would be a mistake to curb the authority of educators.


Prosperity and rural America

America’s economy is finally producing real gains for low- to moderate-income Americans, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. But the biggest gains have occurred in major metropolitan areas, while large parts of rural America continue to trail behind. The New York Times looks at some of the reasons behind this disparity  including some suggestions from Jason Bailey of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.


In struggling rural areas, there is a need for investment in the physical, natural and technological infrastructure that has been a critical building block for a better economy elsewhere. That entails laying broadband lines, restoring and reforesting degraded land, repairing parks, and renovating housing and building stock to make it more energy efficient. Such investment has the added benefit of creating jobs that are accessible now to the working class men who have experienced some of the steepest job losses in recent years. Investment in infrastructure is important to rural America, and so is the social investment that has been cut back through federal and state budget cuts in recent years. For instance, many rural areas have been ravaged by drug addiction, but drug treatment is too difficult to access. Reversing cuts will put people to work alleviating such problems.

Number of the Day

99.6 – Percentage of net tax cuts that would go to the top 1 percent of income earners by 2025 under tax proposal advanced by House GOP leaders in Washington (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)