Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards released his plan to cover both the $440 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year and the looming fiscal cliff – now estimated at almost $1.4 billion. House Speaker Taylor Barras has said the GOP doesn’t plan to offer a comprehensive alternative. But House GOP leader Lance Harris said Republicans do have a plan; they’re just not making it public. So, the governor’s proposal along with an assortment of bills filed on tax and budget issues will set the parameters for the debate. Tyler Bridges writes for The Advocate:
Edwards’ plan “is a very good start in asking the Legislature to think about a long-term budget plan that has stability, that is not anti-competitive and that has some sense of fairness for all taxpayers,” said Jim Richardson, an LSU economics professor who co-chaired the blue-ribbon panel. “Is it perfect? No one will say it’s perfect.”
Bridges on Harris’ secret plan to balance the budget:
In an interview Friday, Harris said he and House leaders are now focused only on spending. It’s unclear whether a comprehensive tax proposal is forthcoming. “We do have a plan to deal with the fiscal issues of the state,” Harris said. “It starts with spending. We are working through this process. You’ll see some (bills) develop through April 18,” the last day that legislators can file bills. Asked why the leadership’s fiscal plan is not visible, he replied: “I never said we’d release it to the public.”
While Edwards is talking about needing more dollars to pay for the TOPS college tuition program, road work, child protective services and K-12 education, Republican lawmakers are talking about needing to pare back spending. The disconnects couldn’t seem wider ahead of the legislative session that begins next week. That raises questions about whether Edwards and lawmakers will bridge the gaps, find a way to stabilize state finances and end nearly a decade of budget chaos- or whether the session will bring continued gridlock and little change.
The Advocate’s editorial board wrote in favor of the effort by New Orleans Sen. J.P. Morrell to rein in tax exemptions and the governor’s broader tax reform package:
What is needed is not just the rollback of some exemptions, but a major-league tax reform effort that will eliminate some of the breaks and exemptions. We are encouraged not only by Morrell’s initiative but by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ wide-ranging proposals for changing the tax code.
The death penalty and the state budget
Rep. Terry Landry and Sen. Dan Claitor have both filed bills to eliminate the death penalty in Louisiana. Landry- a former state police superintendent- and Claitor- a former prosecutor- cite both morality and fiscal issues as reasons for filing the bills. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard has the story:
Claitor said the motivation behind his legislation was a combination of religious faith and practical finances. … The costs rise geometrically when adding the expense of paying additional lawyers, court time and security for the judicial reviews legally required before the state can put to death a person. Plus, more expenses are incurred with post-conviction appeals undertaken in hopes of stopping the execution. All those costs, which can run in the tens of millions of dollars per case, also are the responsibility of taxpayers.
School boards offer excuses
The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that the advice of a Baton Rouge law firm swayed a majority of school districts across the state to reject the Board of Regents’ offer to install free high-speed internet in schools statewide. State officials responded to concerns voiced in the law firm’s letter, but that only brought counter-arguments from the firm.
The state Board of Regents, with support from Gov. John Bel Edwards, made the offer to district superintendents and later provided point-by-point rebuttals to concerns raised by wary educators and their lawyers. But in the end, only 12 of Louisiana’s 69 district superintendents signed up, killing what backers called a onetime opportunity to expand students’ and teachers’ access to a wide range of educational opportunities. The state offered to connect public schools with the computer network that links universities, which also would have extended high-speed internet to schools in rural areas of Louisiana with little access. Officials in some of the districts that accepted the offer were disappointed to learn they will never see the cost savings, and improved internet access, they sought.
The costs of segregation
A new study from the Urban Institute shows that racial segregation has negative effects for the economy and public safety. The study focused on Chicago and found that lowering the level of segregation there to the national median would lead to more economic output, higher incomes and a lower homicide rate. Nick Chiles has the story for NPR.
“Segregation is not only an issue in low-income communities or communities of color,” the report says. “Economic and racial segregation has strangled opportunities for millions of people. Disinvestment has devastated entire city neighborhoods and suburban villages, towns and cities. Lack of diversity also hurts affluent communities, where limited housing options often mean that young people cannot afford to return when starting their own families, retirees cannot afford to stay and valued employees are priced out. Add it up, and it’s clear that segregation holds back the entire region’s economy and potential —and whether we realize it or not, it’s costing all of us.”
Number of the Day
$1.2 billion – Amount of federal flood relief aid approved for Louisiana last week (Source: The Associated Press)