The executive budget won’t be unveiled until Feb. 24, but the annual debate over spending is expected to kick off on Friday, when the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference meets to decide on the size of the current-year budget gap. From there comes the decision on whether Gov. John Bel Edwards and the joint House-Senate budget committee can close the gap on their own, or if legislators will need to be called into special session. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that Edwards and House Speaker Taylor Barras are at odds over how big the shortfall has to be to trigger a special session:
If the governor and the joint budget committee max out on cuts they’re allowed to make and a deficit remains, a special session would be required to finish rebalancing the budget. Barras said that maximum wouldn’t be hit unless the deficit tops $450 million or more. But Edwards suggested the parameters for where he and the joint budget committee can splash spending are so restrictive that if the deficit hits $300 million, a special session would be needed to give lawmakers more flexibility to cut across agencies. Otherwise, cuts would fall heaviest on areas that have fewer protected dollars, mainly public colleges and health services.
Children and mass incarceration
Louisiana incarcerates more of its citizens, on a per-capita basis, than any other political jurisdiction in the world – and nowhere are the effects felt more acutely than in New Orleans. But incarceration impacts not just those who are locked up but their children, who have done nothing to deserve losing a custodial parent. A new weeklong series by Richard Webster and Jonathan Bullington of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune kicks off this morning that looks at the effect of Louisiana’s prison industry on these innocent victims. From the introduction:
The series will show how parents charged with nonviolent offenses are held for months — sometimes years — as they await trial simply because they are too poor to pay bail and how this practice can leave children teetering on the edge of homelessness or falling into the foster care system. It will detail how keeping some children connected to their incarcerated parents can break the cycle of recidivism. And yet families encounter significant obstacles along the way: from long and expensive trips across Louisiana to a jail telephone system that charges low-income families up to 10 times the average rate while generating millions of dollars for sheriffs and correctional facilities.
From the lead editorial accompanying the series:
Criminals who commit violent acts deserve serious punishment. But Louisiana routinely imprisons people for long periods of time for minor, nonviolent crimes. Even worse, suspects are held for months on end before trial simply because they can’t afford bail. They haven’t been convicted of anything, but they end up serving a sentence driven by poverty. Those months in jail before trial can take an important source of income away from a family. Even the loss of a modest salary can be devastating. That lost income also puts a strain on public services when more people have to seek help to survive financially.
Poison in the water
The Advocate’s Mark Ballard looks at the problem of lead-tainted water in the north Louisiana town of St. Joseph – where the median household income is less than one-third of that in Baton Rouge – and the potential cost of making sure that children and families in hundreds of similar towns have the basic dignity of clean, safe drinking water.
Without a tax base, towns like St. Joseph routinely delay spending on maintenance, a practice that is now coming back to haunt them, says Lady Carlson, a Together Louisiana advocate who helped bring St. Joseph’s plight to the Legislature’s attention and now is focusing on the water problems in the other forgotten communities. … Doing the math on his fingers, (activist Garrett) Boyte last calculated that repairing the infrastructure will cost taxpayers about $2.4 billion if one accepts that 300 other Louisiana towns — the low end of the estimate — need similar repairs. “People are not going to send their hard-earned money to some Podunk town they’ve never heard of before,” Boyte said. “That worries me.”
Auditing the Jindal era
Legislative auditors have been combing through state agencies’ financial operations and documenting numerous examples of shoddy oversight and poor financial management. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte looks through some recent audits.
Louisiana’s labor department rolled out a new computer system on Nov. 9 (2015), in the final weeks of the Jindal administration, even after the system hadn’t passed necessary testing, causing widespread problems throughout the state unemployment program, auditors say. Incorrect unemployment payments were issued as soon as the new computer system went online at the Louisiana Workforce Commission, and thousands of fraud investigations were stalled, according to the report from (Legislative Auditor Daryl) Purpera’s office. The system had such inadequate security that the report warns it could lead to “unauthorized view or theft of unemployment insurance and tax data.” The computer upgrade was overseen by Jindal’s mother Raj Jindal, who had been the workforce commission’s information services director. She retired in January.
Number of the Day
8 – Percentage of Louisiana children who have had a parent in jail. (Source: Nola.com/The Times-Picayune).