The state’s $300 million budget surplus, spurred by higher-than-expected corporate and personal income tax collections and a small bump in oil and gas taxes, has prompted hand-wringing from some conservatives who now say that tax renewals that helped stabilize this year’s budget were unnecessary. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace reminds us that we’ve been here before, and that slashing state taxes based on short-term revenue gains is a terrible idea:
A decade ago, recently elected Gov. Bobby Jindal and a bunch of new legislators who made up the first post-term limits class were still finding their legs. Money was rolling in to state coffers, thanks to recovery spending from monster hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and high oil and gas prices. First over Jindal’s resistance but ultimately with his enthusiastic assent, lawmakers responded by drastically cutting back on state income taxes. The high lasted a little while longer. But ultimately, there was hell to pay. Now, here we are, just short of three months in the new, stable era, and there’s suddenly a surplus again. And some of Edwards’ critics, including many legislative conservatives, are bellyaching that the hard-fought agreement to stabilize revenue through a 9/20 of a cent sales tax hike — or 11/20 cent cut from the emergency temporary fix of two years earlier, depending on your point of view — wasn’t necessary after all. That’s absurd. It’s the kind of short-term, rose-colored glasses thinking that got us into this long mess in the first place. It doesn’t account for real constraints on how and when the money can be spent. And frankly, it isn’t particularly conservative.
A report released last week by Moody’s Analytics ranked Louisiana as the state least prepared to weather even a small economic downturn.
Orleans cafeteria workers win $15 hourly wage
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to raise teacher pay has received the bulk of the attention in recent conversations about public school wages in Louisiana, but school support staff are also overdue for a pay raise. Louisiana cooks working in institutional settings make an average of $10.14 an hour – roughly $21,090 a year. Now, thanks to a raise approved by the Orleans Parish School Board and backed by parents’ advocacy organization Our Voice Nuestra Voz, cafeteria workers serving the 14 schools that contract with the board for food service will earn $15 an hour. Wilborn P. Nobles III reports in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune:
Speaking at last Thursday’s board meeting, food service worker Pamela Bourgeois said she proudly identifies as a “cafeteria lady.” She encouraged the OPSB to take a leadership role and support the people, many of whom are women, who work hard to run school kitchens citywide. “We should not have to work two or more jobs to make ends meet. We should not have to max out our credit cards to provide for our families,” Bourgeois said. “We should not have to rely on our family members for assistance. We need to know that we are contributing to our households.”
Federal funds boost state highway spending
Anyone who takes to the road in Louisiana knows that highway maintenance should be a priority in the state. Now, Autumn Cafiero Giusti reports in the Engineering News Record, because the state used all of its available federal highway funding in the 2017-18 fiscal year, Louisiana will receive an additional $80 million dollars for highway repairs.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards praised the state for taking advantage of all federal resources available for infrastructure improvements. “We have no shortage of needs, and we are addressing some of the most critical infrastructure projects throughout the state,” Edwards says. (Transportation Secretary Shawn) Wilson called the windfall a “tremendous help” for critical improvements, but offered a warning. “The bad news is this is likely the last year the state will receive the additional federal money due to a lack of funding for additional state match,” he said in August. The funding comes at a time when Louisiana faces a $14 billion backlog in road and bridge needs, and its fuel tax—which pays for the state’s highway program—has remained at 16 cents per gallon for almost 30 years. Ken Naquin, CEO of the Louisiana Associated General Contractors, says the money will help offset some of those costs, which have risen with inflation. He points out that 16 cents in 1988 is worth about 7 cents today.
This funding is a boon to the state’s economy: driven by construction jobs, Louisiana’s personal income growth was the second highest in the nation in the second quarter of 2018. Without increasing state revenues to pay for a state match, however, Louisiana will likely miss out on this funding next year.
To explain high maternal death rates, Louisiana looks at medical care
Fifty-eight women die from pregnancy-related causes for every 100,000 births in Louisiana, the highest maternal death rate in the nation. For years, authorities have looked to mothers’ bodies, behaviors and environments to explain these trends, focusing on factors like obesity, smoking and domestic violence. Now Louisiana is leading the way with a new approach to understanding this problem: analyzing the medical care mothers receive. USA Today reports on this change in how the state looks to understand these deaths:
In Louisiana – the deadliest state in America for pregnant women and new mothers – the state’s 2012 report on maternal deaths emphasized suicide, domestic violence and car crashes. It dedicated pages of charts and recommendations to those issues. Near the end of the report, the panel spent two paragraphs encouraging doctors and hospitals to follow basic maternal care procedures known to protect women. The state panel did not issue another report for six years. This month, that report was the first in which Louisiana focused largely on medical care given to its mothers.
There are significant racial disparities in maternal health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American mothers are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. The New York Times’s Linda Villarosa presents a harrowing account of one black woman’s experience as callous medical care led to the loss of her baby in New Orleans:
As her January due date grew closer, Landrum noticed that her hands, her feet and even her face were swollen, and she had to quit her job because she felt so ill. But her doctor, whom several friends had recommended and who accepted Medicaid, brushed aside her complaints. He recommended Tylenol for the headaches. “I am not a person who likes to take medicine, but I was always popping Tylenol,” Landrum says. “When I told him my head still hurt, he said to take more.” When Landrum complained about how she was feeling more forcefully at the appointment, she recalls, her doctor told her to lie down — and calm down. She says that he also warned her that he was planning to go out of town and told her that he could deliver the baby by C-section that day if she wished, six weeks before her early-January due date. Landrum says it seemed like an ultimatum, centered on his schedule and convenience. So she took a deep breath and lay on her back for 40 minutes until her blood pressure dropped within normal range. Aside from the handwritten note, Landrum’s medical records don’t mention the hypertensive episode, the headaches or the swelling, and she says that was the last time the doctor or anyone from his office spoke to her. “It was like he threw me away,” Landrum says angrily.
Number of the Day
5.9 – Percentage increase in personal income in Louisiana in the second fiscal quarter of 2018. (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce)