An ongoing stalemate in the Revenue Estimating Conference is preventing Louisiana from updating its official revenue forecast, which in turn is complicating Gov. John Bel Edwards’ efforts to present lawmakers with a balanced budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year that reflects current reality. A unanimous vote is required by the four-member panel to determine how much is available to spend. But House Speaker Taylor Barras continues to overrule the state economists who are paid to forecast these things. The Advocate editorial board is not amused that politics has overtaken the previously non-political job of revenue forecasting:
Barras’ vote blocks the improved forecast, meaning the money can’t be spent. He has vague questions about the impact of the federal tax changes, declines in oil prices and the state economy. “I just feel that there is a good bit of uncertainty,” the New Iberia banker said. There’s some uncertainty in every new day. That doesn’t mean that every decision must be put on hold, against expert advice. There is reason to doubt Barras’ sincerity, and that reason is politics. If the forecasting committee cannot agree, it not only affects the current year’s spending. It also restricts the amount available to Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, when he by law offers the first draft of the fiscal 2020 budget next month.
Exxon-Mobil pulls tax break request
One of the largest employers in the capital region is threatening to curtail future investments after the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board last week rejected a $2.9 million tax break. The school board’s rejection prompted Exxon Mobil Corp., which recorded a $6.2 billion profit in the third quarter of 2018, to withdraw a similar request pending before the parish council that would have given the company a 10-year property tax exemption on two projects that have already been completed. The company routinely pays school property taxes on similar projects in Texas and elsewhere. Sam Karlin of The Advocate has more:
Together Baton Rouge, the advocacy group that has railed against the ITEP program, applauded Exxon’s decision. “Local standards provide the thing that’s most important, both for our corporate partners and for our community, which is predictability,” said the Rev. Lee T. Wesley, of Together Baton Rouge. “What’s new is that, for once, it’s not the predictability of a rubber-stamp; it’s the predictability of a genuine standard. That’s a positive and important change.” Changes sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards “brought ITEP back in line” with Texas and the way the rest of the country handles exemptions, the organization said. Both the School Board and Metro Council established standards for how to approve the exemptions in recent months, and the exemptions in question did not meet those standards, the group said.
The teacher’s rebellion
Teachers across America have staged walkouts, strikes and other protests to bring pressure on local authorities to provide adequate funding and pay raises. These organic and organized activities are bringing a renew momentum to the labor movement after years of declining union membership and rulings that weaken union power. As The Atlantic’s Alia Wong reports, the protests are about far more than boosting teacher pay. They’re about improving conditions in public schools that have suffered decades of neglect.
Since then, teachers’ strikes have continued to focus even more on these beyond-the-pocketbook issues. One reason is simply that the quality of the country’s public schools is, in certain places, terrible. The Great Recession ushered in an era of austerity measures that significantly hamstrung public schools across the country; in a handful of red states, school spending never returned to pre-2008 levels. Additionally, schools have been resegregating, contributing to growing race- and income-based disparities in achievement, and standardized testing, which proliferated following the No Child Left Behind Act signed into law by George W. Bush in 2002, continues to dictate the way many schools are measured and run.
Higher education funding is starting to rebound
After a decade of dramatic cuts, state support for public colleges and universities is starting to rebound – though recent gains are not nearly enough to make up for the cuts. The latest Grapevine Survey, an annual tally of state funding in higher education, found that the gains were uneven – as some states made significant new investments while others continued to cut. Greg Toppo of Inside Higher Ed with more:
States spent 3.7 percent more supporting higher education in fiscal year 2018-19 than in the previous year. The small rise continued a five-year trend of upward support that this year totals about $91.5 billion. In the previous fiscal year, support for higher education grew just 1.6 percent, according to the Grapevine survey, an annual early survey of state indicators. And while five states reported funding decreases between FY18 and FY19, that represents a small fraction of the 18 states that reported declines the previous year. “We’ve had, over all, a marginally better year,” said James Palmer, a professor of higher education at Illinois State University and editor of Grapevine, a project of Illinois State’s Center for the Study of Education Policy and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Palmer said the 3.7 percent rise “continues a trend in what can only be called modest annual increases to state higher education funding over the past five years.”
Number of the Day
7.4 – The two-year percentage change in Louisiana state funding for higher education form FY17-FY19 (Source: Grapevine)