Sine Die and a sigh of relief

Sine Die and a sigh of relief

When the Louisiana House adjourned on Thursday, its members were hopelessly deadlocked over one-tenth of a penny of sales-tax renewal.

Number of the Day

3 - Special sessions of the Louisiana Legislature required to reach a revenue compromise that keeps most state services operating at current levels. (Source: Louisiana Legislature)

When the Louisiana House adjourned on Thursday, its members were hopelessly deadlocked over one-tenth of a penny of sales-tax renewal. Neither the governor’s preferred 0.5 percent renewal, or the 0.4 percent favored by many Republicans, could muster the required 70 votes to move a bill out of the lower chamber. But on Friday a compromise plan emerged, led by two women legislators from opposing parties – Republican Paula Davis of Baton Rouge and Democrat Katrina Jackson of Monroe. Once the 0.45 – cent renewal cleared the House, all that remained was ironing out some details with the Senate on an accompanying spending bill. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte was there:

“Nobody got everything that they were looking for, but everybody got something,” the governor said. “It is going to fund our most critical priorities in a responsible way.” The more than $29 billion operating budget will shield most agencies from cuts, ending fears that safety-net hospitals would shutter, nursing homes would kick out patients, food stamps would be eliminated and college students would be left scrambling to offset reductions in the TOPS tuition program.

The compromise plan caps a grueling four-month lawmaking period that included three special sessions that were needed because $1.4 billion in tax revenue goes off the books on July 1. Filling that gap required a mix of revenue sources. Deslatte breaks down the math:

The shortfall tied to expiring taxes passed by lawmakers in 2015 and 2016 initially was pegged at nearly $1 billion earlier this year. The gap was closed with better-than-expected income projections, taxes and oil spill recovery money. The centerpiece of the budget-balancing package was a sales tax that won final passage Sunday.

The budget deal extends the temporary sales tax through mid-2025, which should provide some much-needed stability for college students, faculty members, assistant district attorneys and those who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to put food on the table each month. Still, the extension of a temporary sales tax is no substitute for the long-term structural tax reform that Louisiana badly needs. Our state remains far too reliant on sales tax revenues, and the need for new investments in everything from early childhood education to infrastructure improvements is greater than ever.


Juvenile Justice is unfunded
The final tax compromise is projected to raise $463 million next year, which is $43 million short of the amount needed to restore all of the “below the line” spending priorities in the budget. While most critical priorities received  “full” funding, including TOPS and food assistance, other areas of the budget are still short. That includes the Department of Corrections, local sheriffs and Louisiana’s long-troubled juvenile justice system, which still needs nearly $11 million. A last-minute compromise restored some juvenile justice funding, but still leaves a major gap. Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue:

In 2016, Louisiana lawmakers — with the enthusiastic backing of Edwards — approved a law that will prevent the state from automatically putting 17-year-olds through the adult criminal justice system. Instead, those teenagers are to go through the juvenile justice system, as they do in most other states. The law is scheduled to be phased in, with 17-year-olds convicted of nonviolent offenses joining the juvenile justice system in 2019 and teenagers convicted of violent offenses joining in 2020. The law was changed because teenagers — who don’t have fully developed brains yet — were thought to be too young to be treated the same as adults who break laws.  Still, Louisiana struggles to pay for the change. It costs significantly more money to detain or supervise a juvenile offender than an adult, due to federal regulations. Bueche said the cost runs from $400 to $410 per day, compared to $55 on the high end for an adult offender.


Paying for judgments
One of the many pitfalls of having the state in perpetual budget brinkmanship is that important spending priorities tend to get neglected for years at a time. The growing backlog of maintenance needs at college campuses is one example. Another is the accumulation of legal judgments against the state, which cannot be paid without action by the Legislature. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, the state finally got around to paying $42 million in long-overdue legal bills this year.

Short on funds, the Legislature flat hasn’t approved paying any of the court-ordered judgments since the 2013 session, when $12 million was paid, during the administration of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. … The issue was always money, there was never any thought that the state didn’t owe the judgments, particularly after most of the lawsuits went from jury verdicts through the appellate system, said Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Franklin Foil. Because he’s a lawyer and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he fielded a lot of calls from attorneys and from lobbyists representing lawyers asking for help.


Family (un) friendly policies
There is nothing more important to most politicians than appearing to be pro-family. Policymakers in both parties almost inevitably describe their proposals as a way to help families, be they military families, working families or simply their own families as a political backdrop. The New York Times’ Emily Badger and Claire Cain Miller note that America falls far behind most civilized countries in the way it treats families, even before the Trump administration began its controversial policy of caging young children of undocumented immigrants.

“There’s a basic inconsistency in saying we support families, we have family-friendly policies, when in fact we have the worst family policies of any developed high-income democracy,” said  Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “We don’t have family-friendly policies at all.” Families are separated every day in the criminal justice and child welfare systems, often just as abruptly as at the border. Some parents struggle to support children without federal policies like paid family leave and subsidized child care that are offered in other countries. In less visible ways, even policies and programs intended to support families can undermine them. Some families qualify for fewer federal benefits that help the working poor, like the earned-income tax credit and Medicaid, if the parents marry. Many states that prioritize health care for children offer no help to their parents, despite evidence that children have better outcomes when their parents are healthy, too.


Number of the Day
3 – Special sessions of the Louisiana Legislature required to reach a revenue compromise that keeps most state services operating at current levels. (Source: Louisiana Legislature)