The House Ways and Means Committee spent six hours debating revenue measures on Thursday, but there is little to show for it. The committee considered multiple bills that would have raised revenue to replace expiring temporary taxes, but the only bill approved by the committee was Rep. Lance Harris’ House Bill 27, which renews just one-third of the expiring penny of sales tax. It would generate $369 million – not nearly enough to solve the $648 million fiscal cliff. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte writes:
“The Ways and Means Committee voted 11-6 to send the bill to the full House for debate. It spurned every other tax bill, including the larger sales tax measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Terry Landry and favored by Edwards. … Some Republicans who voted to move the proposal out of committee aren’t certain to support the tax bill on the House floor. In addition, Democratic support will be needed to reach the two-thirds vote for passage. Nearly all Democrats objected to the bill in committee, saying it raises too little and shouldn’t be temporary.”
If HB 27, in its current form, is the only revenue generating bill to pass during this special session, the legislature would have to cut $279 million from healthcare, higher education, and other state priorities. HB 27 is set to be discussed on the House floor this afternoon.
Edwards wants end to crisis-mode
Louisiana has been struggling with a structural budget deficit since before Gov. John Bel Edwards took office in 2016. Despite the fiscal challenges and the partisan politics that have left the legislature gridlocked, the governor appears to maintain an optimistic outlook for the state. In his special session-opening speech, Gov. Edwards’ asset-based and solutions-oriented vision for Louisiana came through, as he remarked on what could be possible if the state was able to move past the current fiscal problems. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace:
What was new this time was his preview of what could happen if state government finally stops “living crisis to crisis,” as Edwards put it. If lawmakers act, Edwards suggested, the long-running fight over how to avert painful cuts to health care, higher education and other services would finally end, and for the first time since he was elected in 2015, he’d get to talk about what he’d like to do rather than what cuts he wants to prevent. That would mean tackling long-delayed initiatives such as giving teachers a pay raise, expanding early childhood education and finally reinvesting in institutions such as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where a large and supportive crowd cheered him on, “rather than merely protect them from cuts year after year.”
States not contributing fair share of school funding
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds light on the disinvestment in public schools by state governments, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). According to Michael Leachman from CBPP, while combined state and local government funding has rebounded from the last recession, local governments are picking up more of the slack that state governments:
While combined state and local funding in 2016 was nearly back to pre-recession levels nationally, state funding was down $166 per student while local funding was up $161. The shift from state to local funding raises equity concerns. Local funding relies heavily on local property taxes. Because school districts in neighborhoods with high property values find it much easier to raise adequate revenue than districts where property values are low, a shift toward more local funding can exacerbate school funding inequities. States can offset local inequities using school funding formulas that provide more funds to lower-income school districts.
Louisiana’s funding formula was again not adjusted for inflation this year.
Policy can eradicate poverty
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign is alive and well. To commemorate the campaign’s 50-year anniversary, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, Elise Gould and Jessica Schieder, report on the progress (and lack of progress) in reducing the rate of poverty among seniors, working adults and children since the 1960s. Their series offers a snapshot of poverty, and remarks on how public policy can perpetuate inequity:
Too often, it is assumed that poverty persists in the United States because those living below the poverty line simply refuse to work. In fact, a significant share of these individuals work and work full time, which means policies that boost employment and wages can be an important tool for reducing poverty. This does not eliminate, however, the need for a stronger safety net in this country to ensure that all people, regardless of whether they are enrolled in school, disabled, serve as full-time caregivers, or any other reason, are not vulnerable to falling into poverty. A serious fight against poverty requires both a more generous safety net and a better-functioning labor market.
Number of the Day
$40 million – the suggested (but unsuccessful) increase in school funding recommended by the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force and Superintendents’ Advisory Council for 2018. (Source: The Advocate)