Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday that a $1,000 annual pay raise for teachers and $500 for school support staff would be his top legislative priority in 2019, calling it critical to attracting motivated people to the profession. On his weekly radio show, Edwards said the salary increase would cost $114 million, and be taken from increased tax revenue flowing into state coffers. Most public school teachers haven’t seen a raise from the state since 2013, and the increase would not be enough to bring salaries back to the Southern regional average. While there is bipartisan support for teacher pay increases, as always, there are differing views on how to get it done. Julia O’Donoghue with Nola.com/Times-Picayune reports:
Several conservative members of the Legislature are on board with raising teacher pay, even those that don’t typically agree with Edwards. “Everybody believes that our teachers need to be paid adequately when compared to their counterparts in other states,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. That doesn’t mean that the specifics of Edwards’ proposal have been fully embraced. Lawmakers have different ideas of how much salaries should be increased and who should be included in the pay bump. Not everyone believes that bus drivers and other support staff, for example, need a pay increase. Some legislators also hope that the salary hike can be even higher than what’s been discussed. “I’m hoping we can do even more than he is proposing,” said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, of teacher raises.
Criminal justice reforms are working
The historic criminal justice reforms passed by the Legislature in 2017 had support from a broad bipartisan coalition of advocates. But they’ve drawn fire from U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who has taken his complaints all the way to President Donald Trump. Kennedy’s complaints are mostly anecdotal, short on facts and many times, factually wrong. Writing in a guest column for Nola.com/Times-Picayune, Marc Hyden, Southeast region director for the conservative R Street Institute, describes how the reforms are actually working.
Despite such overwhelmingly positive data, out of the thousands of individuals released from prison who seem to have predominantly led wholesome lives, Sen. Kennedy instead cherry-picked five stories of men who have since been rearrested to illustrate his point. Using these anecdotes, he criticized the criminal justice reforms — implying that these few people are evidence of a failing system. Yet, many of the recent parolees in question haven’t been convicted. Nobody, including the junior senator, knows if they are guilty or innocent yet. To proceed to dismantle the Justice Reinvestment laws based on these inconclusive anecdotes would be a mistake — especially since the reforms are showing such promise. These reforms are moving Louisiana in the right direction. With time, the program should fulfill its mandate if not exceed it, but we must be patient.
Surplus is a good thing
Louisiana finished the 2017-18 fiscal year with a budget surplus of at least $300 million, money the state can sock away for financial emergencies, or use to pay down debt and invest in infrastructure projects. But some GOP critics point to this good news as evidence that Gov. John Bel Edwards exaggerated the severity of the state’s budget woes. The actual size of the surplus hasn’t been finalized yet, but the Revenue Estimating Conference plans to meet today to try to get a better picture of what the numbers look like. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports:
“We know it’s going to be a surplus, which is a good thing,” Edwards said Wednesday during his monthly call-in radio show. “The economy performed better than the Revenue Estimating Conference predicted.” “It certainly beats a deficit,” he added. … Edwards said he believes that the revenue boost is due to economic growth. “We’ve been able to stabilize the situation in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “I’m excited about it and I hear from people all over the state of Louisiana that they are doing better.”
While State Treasurer John Schroder said his office can’t yet identify why the state has a surplus, others have a few ideas:
Officials can’t say yet why revenue collections exceeded expectations, but economists have said oil and gas revenues have been higher than expected. The corporate income tax collection forecast was also very conservative, Alario said. Several changes to corporate tax breaks have been made over the past few years. State economist Greg Albrecht, who determines the state revenue forecast, has said he is having hard time predicting what those collections might be from year to year, so much so that he is trying to be measured with his projections. A fairly significant change to state income tax collections also took place at the end of the most recent budget cycle. An federal income tax cut Congress and President Donald Trump approved was supposed to make state income tax collections higher.
A guide for Opportunity Zones
Since their enactment in last year’s tax bill, Opportunity Zones have become a talking point on how to revitalize struggling neighborhoods through direct tax-advantaged investments. Gov. John Bel Edwards nominated 150 Louisiana census tracts as Opportunity Zones last March. But Rachel Barker and Alan Berube with Brookings pose a crucial question for states as they move forward with this program: how can they ensure that private funds deliver sustainable investment in lower-income communities that truly need it, rather than simply accelerate real estate development in neighborhoods where market forces are already strong?
As Opportunity Zones are implemented, those leaders can deploy additional tools to help channel investments toward economically and racially equitable outcomes. For instance, they can: develop marketing prospectuses that identify priority neighborhood investments; layer other public investments and supports to incentivize and leverage Opportunity Zone investment; use permitting and zoning powers as carrots and sticks to encourage desired outcomes; and organize Opportunity Funds themselves that aggregate capital for investment opportunities that could drive more equitable outcomes. All of these strategies might focus on steering investment to more economically challenged Opportunity Zones, equity for small businesses, or industrial real estate development that generates high-quality, accessible jobs for community residents.
Number of the Day
12.4 percent – Poverty rate for the 100 largest metro areas in the nation. This is the fourth year in a row that major metro poverty has fallen. New Orleans was the only metro area where poverty increased. (Source: Brookings Institution)