Borrowing money for things like road projects and other infrastructure needs got a little easier and less expensive for the state last week after the Standard & Poor ratings agency upgraded Louisiana’s credit outlook from “negative” to “stable.” The decision was a direct result of the Legislature’s decision to stabilize the state budget by renewing part of an expiring 1-cent sales tax through 2025 – providing the state with some medium-term fiscal stability that has been lacking for nearly a decade. As S&P Global Ratings explained:
The outlook revision reflects, in part, our view that the partial extension of a sun-setting sales tax will afford the state a measure of budgetary predictability, at least through its initial period (through 2025). This is the state’s third successive budget adoption to not included one-time resources to balance the budget. By more closely aligning revenue expectations with recurring expenditures, we believe the recent practice of balancing budgets with one-time measures is also now less likely.
Gannett’s Greg Hilburn picks it up from there:
“For too long, our state lacked the stability and predictability we needed, but those days are over,” (Gov. John Bel) Edwards said. “We still have a long way to go, but with our economy growing, more people finding work, and our commitment to improve health outcomes and access to education, Louisiana is finally headed in the right direction.”
The State Police is really white
At 32 percent, Louisiana has the nation’s second-highest proportion of African-American residents, behind only Mississippi. But that is not reflected in the ranks of the State Police – particularly its upper echelons. As The Advocate’s Jim Mustian reports, only 16 percent of state commissioned troopers are black, and 4 percent are women. It’s even worse in the top ranks, where all 10 state police majors are white men, while the 22 captains include three African-Americans and one woman.
“It’s hard to police when your department is not reflective of your surroundings,” said a veteran black trooper who spoke to The Advocate on the condition of anonymity. “I never thought that, in 2018, we’d still have a culture of minorities not having a voice or being able to speak out about diversity issues without being blackballed.” … Recruiting a diverse force has bedeviled the State Police for decades. As early as 1975, the agency faced allegations of discriminatory hiring practices. That year, Louisiana’s population was about 30 percent African-American, but just 1.5 percent of state troopers were black. The U.S. Justice Department investigated the agency in the 1990s and essentially accused it of institutionalizing a good-old-boy network.
Debtors’ prisons in New Orleans
More than 25 percent of the budget for New Orleans Criminal Court – in excess of $2 million – comes from fines, fees and a percentage of bail bonds assessed to criminal defendants who, in most cases, are too poor to afford an attorney. Those who can’t pay often end up in jail in a scheme that has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court – and which the Criminal court is appealing with the help of a private law firm. The Advocate’s James Gill:
(U.S. District Court Judge Sarah) Vance, citing “undisputed evidence,” found the court’s 13 judges imposed fines and fees without checking on a defendant’s ability to pay or providing a neutral forum, even though they had a stake in the case because a percentage of the loot goes to their expense fund. Such shenanigans have been declared unconstitutional by the courts, as has jailing debtors in itself unless nonpayment is willful. Vance must have been tempted to add a sentence to her decision: “Do I really need to explain this elementary stuff?”
The real economy isn’t booming
America’s economy is in excellent shape, by many measures. Unemployment is low, growth is steady and the stock market keeps hitting all-time highs. But for millions of workers, merely having a job is not enough to provide even modest financial security, as contributor Peter Georgescu writes in Forbes. Stagnant wages, especially for those near the bottom, combined with steadily rising rents, health care costs and other outlays have combined to make life increasingly difficult for the one-third of American households that live at or near the poverty line.
What’s genuinely astonishing to me is that the private sector doesn’t see the immense danger in all this—not simply the prospect of a collapse from enormous household debt loads, but the prospect of civil unrest after another huge correction like the one in 2008. Our current course is unsustainable. And for all the proposals for changes in public policy to ameliorate income inequality, only the private sector can get the nation on a better track by raising wages, increasing benefits and investing in new ventures and expanded markets.
Number of the Day
41 – Additional days a person would have to work in 2018 at the federal $7.25 per hour minimum wage to have the same earning power as a minimum wage worker in 2009. (Source: Forbes)