Crumbling Capitol, crumbling infrastructure

Crumbling Capitol, crumbling infrastructure

The State Capitol is deteriorating, and the falling fragments of mortar from the building have become a safety concern for visitors. But for The Advocate’s editorial board, the falling chunks of mortar have become a symbol of the state’s crumbling infrastructure – and the state’s unwillingness to address it:

In Baton Rouge, the state doesn’t have the $40 million to $60 million necessary to fix the disintegrating mortar and fixtures that hold about 8,500 limestone panels, each weighing more than a ton, to the steel skeleton of the 34-story capitol. Is there going to be a willingness to raise money to pay for the deteriorating roads and bridges in the state? The state gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in 30 years, and it now pays for about half the work that it did in the 1980s. That’s another obvious case of deferring the pain of a tax increase by increasing the pain of bad roads for motorists. To give credit where it is due, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature have wrestled with these problems in a small way. The state’s colleges and universities have nearly $2 billion of deferred maintenance projects, such as roofs that need to be replaced, classrooms that need to be cooled, and leaks that need to be stopped in libraries. At the governor’s request, there has been more emphasis on college repairs, but not enough money is available.


Public services should be easy for the public
Work requirements do little to address unemployment issues. Instead, they burden people unnecessarily who are simply trying to put food on the table. Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan, professors at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, describe work requirements as part of larger trend on the right of making public services harder to use and navigate by erecting bureaucratic roadblocks. Their op-ed in the Washington Post elaborates:

Without passing any new legislation, the Trump administration will have used administrative burdens to significantly change the nature of two of our largest social programs: 73 million and 40 million Americans are served by Medicaid and SNAP, respectively. Such mandates undermine the statutory goals of these programs, which are to improve the public’s health and nutrition rather than promoting employment. A more insidious aspect of work requirements is the myriad bureaucratic obstacles they raise for people to prove their work status. Thousands of Medicaid recipients in Arkansas have already lost health insurance, in no small part because of burdensome reporting requirements. This is in line with one analysis published last summer, which projected that most people who disenroll from Medicaid would do so not because they are not working but because they are struggling to deal with new reporting procedures. … Republicans have figured out how to build this politics of burdens despite opposing it in other areas — such as the regulation of businesses, campaign finance or firearms. As it increased burdens on individuals, regulations on businesses have been cut, particularly at such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department.


Striking for students
Low-income schools with high percentages of students in poverty are often unable to provide the numerous resources necessary for their students to succeed. In additional to quality teachers, students need smaller class sizes, full-time nurses and social workers, adequate school libraries, after-school programs and so much more to provide an enriching educational experience that gives students in poverty a chance to succeed. The recent Los Angeles teachers strike was about just that. After successfully negotiating a pay raise, teachers went on strike to demand a better quality of education for their students. Alia Wong of The Atlantic describes their demands:

Topping the union’s list of priorities were demands around class sizes, which in many schools often exceeded the limits stipulated in the teachers’ previous contract—and in some cases were well upwards of 40 kids. While research on the benefits of class-size reduction is mixed, a number of compelling studies suggest that smaller class sizes can be a significant predictor of student success. Another concern: the paucity of school staff tasked with supporting students’ extracurricular needs and well-being. Many campuses, for example, have for years operated without a full-time librarian or nurse, and a 2017 report found that a Los Angeles public-high-school counselor’s average caseload was 378 students, though that might have been a conservative estimate given recent analyses of the settlement, which concluded that the small number of additional hires will leave the ratio at 1 to 500. Nationally, the recommended student-to-counselor ratio is 250 to 1. Yet the ratio should, arguably, be even lower than that in the Los Angeles public schools, which suffer from one of the greatest concentrations of student poverty among California’s school districts, with more than eight in 10 students relying on subsidized meals.


Quantifying the shutdown
With the government back up and running, agencies can finally begin quantifying the impact that the longest shutdown in history had on the economy. The first projection by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that $11 billion was lost, with nearly $3 billion of that amount unrecoverable. Alan Rappeport and Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times have more:

The report by the nonpartisan budget office said the shutdown, which started in late December and ended Friday, reduced gross domestic product by $3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, and by $8 billion in the first quarter of 2019. The damage caused by the shutdown comes against a gloomy fiscal backdrop. Economic growth already was expected to slow this year. The budget office projected on Monday that real gross domestic product would slow to 2.3 percent in 2019, down from 3.1 percent last year, and that the federal budget deficit would hit $900 billion. Over the next decade, federal debt held by the public is expected to climb from $16.6 trillion to $28.7 trillion. By 2029 it is expected to reach its highest level as a percentage of gross domestic product since the end of World War II.


Correction: An item in Monday’s Daily Dime about Gov. John Bel Edwards’ tax policies should have been attributed to The AP’s Melinda Deslatte.


Number of the day
50 – Louisiana’s ranking, out of 50, in U.S. News and World Report’s “Best States” (Source: U.S. News & World Report)