The budget debate begins

The budget debate begins

Despite an ongoing stalemate over the state revenue forecast, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration laid out its spending priorities for the 2019-20 state fiscal year on Friday. The budget proposal would protect health care and education programs while setting aside $101 million for an across-the-board teacher pay raise. Even though the budget is healthier than it’s been for the past decade, it fails to include needed investments in early childhood education, home-care services for the elderly and mandatory costs incurred by public colleges and universities. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte:

The Democratic governor’s spending recommendations for the 2019-20 budget year that begins July 1 represent a wish list of sorts, assuming Edwards will eventually break through a logjam with House Republican leaders that has blocked increases to the state income forecast. The last financial forecast for the upcoming year was adopted in June. Those figures, however, don’t reflect the recommendations of state economists who expect tax collections to be higher, and they’re missing billions that agencies expect to receive from fees, fines and other revenue sources.

Click here to view Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne’s presentation. Click here for a more detailed breakdown of the budget proposal. A statement on the budget by LBP can be viewed here.  


Money on the margins
Debates over raising the minimum wage often focus on economic questions, such as how it will affect labor markets or the price of goods and services. Very rarely do economists look at how low-wage workers themselves are affected by a bump in pay. The New York Times did just that, however, and it turns out the effects are significant, surprising, and long-lasting. As Matthew Desmond reports, a living wage of $15 per hour, for workers who were earning much less, can help workers reduce stress, quit smoking, take better care of their children and even live longer.  

A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect. But why? Poverty can be unrelenting, shame-inducing and exhausting. When people live so close to the bone, a small setback can quickly spiral into a major trauma. Being a few days late on the rent can trigger a hefty late fee, which can lead to an eviction and homelessness. An unpaid traffic ticket can lead to a suspended license, which can cause people to lose their only means of transportation to work. In the same way, modest wage increases have a profound impact on people’s well-being and happiness. Poverty will never be ameliorated on the cheap. But this truth should not prevent us from acknowledging how powerfully workers respond to relatively small income boosts.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is proposing to establish a state minimum wage of $8.50 an hour by 2021. While this is a good start, a better solution would be to also lift the state pre-emption law that forbids cities and towns from setting a minimum wage on their own. The minimum wage will be the subject of this month’s edition of Louisiana Public Square, airing Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Louisiana Public Broadcasting and in New Orleans on WLAE.


LSU’s leaky library
The Middleton Library at LSU is leaking. Water intrusion in the facility’s basement has forced a trove of documents to be relocated, and the library’s dean describes it as “crisis mode.” It’s part of a backlog of maintenance needs at Louisiana’s college campuses totaling more than $1.7 billion at last count. The Advocate’s editorial board notes that it sends a bad message to prospective students at a time of year when many high school seniors are making decisions about their future.

If LSU’s athletic facilities were as ramshackle as Middleton, Tiger fans would take to the streets with pitchforks. The willingness of LSU’s supporters to tolerate a leaking library where water threatens the books underscores why Louisiana so often lags behind its peers in national higher education rankings. …  LSU’s leaky library sends an unflattering message to those prospective students about what the university holds dear — and what it doesn’t.


A simple calculation
A recent investigation by Times-Picayune’s Emily Lane and Richard Webster found that the state Department of Corrections and local authorities routinely keep inmates behind bars after their sentences have been completed. One inmate served an additional 960 days because of administrative incompetence. The newspaper’s editorial board is not impressed with the state’s excuse that the process for calculating sentence duration is complex, cumbersome and ever-changing.

There are some obvious solutions. The legislative auditor recommended replacing the department’s 1980s-era data system – the Criminal and Justice Unified Network, or CAJUN. That system has a history of inaccurate and incomplete record-keeping, auditors said. The Department of Corrections actually tried to replace CAJUN in 2015, but the new system only lasted 46 days because the department didn’t properly test it or train staff, the audit said. That was a waste of $3.6 million. The Department of Corrections also should make sure the people who are calculating sentences are trained properly and know how to do their jobs. And there should be a way to ensure that if a judge rules an offender should be released for time already served, it happens within hours, not weeks.


Number of the Day
$30.4 billion – Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed operating budget for the 2019-20 budget year, when all financing sources are included. That’s an increase of about $800 million over the current year. (Source: Office of Planning and Budget)