As the election season comes to an end, citizens across the country are voting on numerous state and local races, referenda, amendments, and propositions. Dylan Grundman, a senior analyst with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, details some of the local tax issues voters throughout the country will decide today:
The strongest nationwide trend in local ballots is that in many cases, local governments are asking voters to create or raise local taxes to fill in for state funding that has been cut in recent years, often largely due to short-sighted tax cuts enacted at the state level. For example, state support for K-12 schools remains below pre-recession levels in at least 23 states and the largest school funding cuts have often correlated with major income tax cuts.
Here in Louisiana, there will be over 100 fewer polling places than in 2012. The closures were made possible after the US Supreme Court removed key pieces of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. The Leadership Conference Education Fund details closures throughout the country in a new report:
Polling place closures are a particularly common and pernicious tactic for disenfranchising voters of color. Decisions to shutter or reduce voting locations are often made quietly and at the last minute, making pre-election intervention or litigation virtually impossible. These changes can place an undue burden on minority voters, who may be less likely to have access to public transportation or vehicles, given continuing disparities in socioeconomic resources.
The report provides the breakdown of closures in Louisiana:
Since Shelby, 61 percent of Louisiana parishes have closed a total of 103 polling places since 2012. At a 24 percent closure rate, Winn Parish had the largest reduction of voting locations, followed by Lafayette (16 percent), Bienville (14 percent), Morehouse (14 percent), Jefferson (14 percent), and Tensas (11 percent), with Plaquemines, St. Martin, and Point Coupee each reducing 10 percent. Jefferson Parish reduced the highest number of polling places (23), many as a result of non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, followed by Lafayette (9) and Orleans parishes (7).
Partisanship at state level
State politicians are becoming more partisan, following the lead of powerful national interest groups. Craig Fehrman at FiveThirtyEight explains how the toxicity of partisan posturing is impeding good governance.
But there’s one key difference between the states and D.C. At the national level, gridlock has slowed both sides. In the states, where voters and legislators are more clearly sorted, there’s often less obstruction. Money and energy have moved to the states. Legislatures are getting more lobbyists. (Mylan, the infamous EpiPen manufacturer, upped the number of states it lobbied from nine to 45 in a four-year span.) States have attracted more partisan outfits, as well. More than 1,000 state legislators have signed the state version of Grover Norquist’s “no taxes” pledge. State reps now go to the floor and read NRA talking points verbatim. The American Legislative Exchange Council, which pushes pro-business “model bills” in statehouses around the country, seems stronger than ever.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is not meeting the needs of low-income Americans. Arbitrary time limits and wait lists for service further endanger access to the paltry benefits the program provides. The National Women’s Law Center reports on the need for federal and state investments to smooth TANF’s rough spots.
A number of states have taken advantage of this option to create tighter time limits on cash assistance, which can allow them to spend less money and tout a lower number of families on welfare. The shorter a family’s time limit is, the more pressure there is for parents to find work quickly, which could mean accepting a job with low wages and irregular hours. Several other states, while allowing families to receive assistance for up to the federal lifetime limit of five years, set limits on the number of consecutive months for which they can receive cash assistance. Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina allow families to receive cash assistance for only 24 consecutive months. Texas limits families to either 12, 24, or 36 consecutive months of assistance depending on the individual’s work history and educational attainment; when a family reaches its time limit, it cannot receive assistance again for another five years.
Bill of economic health
The national unemployment rate has held steady at around 5 percent for the past year, and median wages are slowly increasing following years of stagnation. After a slow seven years of recovery, things are looking up for many middle-class workers. Maintaining the growth and stability of the past year will lift families out of poverty, but how will we achieve this as the demographic of working adults is changing? The New York Times’ Neil Irwin breaks down the recent jobs numbers and overall trends:
In particular, the biggest lingering weakness in the employment picture is in the millions of people who have left the labor force — not just in October, but over the last seven years. Only 59.7 percent of American adults were employed in October, down from 62.9 percent at the start of 2008. A big part of that decline is demographic: baby boomers hitting retirement age. But millions of people dropped out of the labor force entirely during and after the recession and have not returned to the work force. One possibility is that rising wages will serve to pull those people into the labor force; somebody who is unwilling to look for a job when the best thing available pays $10 an hour might feel differently about $12. Another possibility is that the problem of labor force dropouts is more deep-seated and complex than mere higher wages can fix.
Number of the Day