A tale of two economies

A tale of two economies

Next month the venerable Public Affairs Research Council, along with the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Committee of 100 for Economic Development will release a four-part agenda aimed at moving Louisiana off the bottom of the “good” lists where it has languished for decades

Number of the Day

$777 billion - Cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget to Medicaid and to marketplace subsidies that help people afford insurance. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

A tale of two economies
Next month the venerable Public Affairs Research Council, along with the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Committee of 100 for Economic Development will release a four-part agenda aimed at moving Louisiana off the bottom of the “good” lists where it has languished for decades. The goals are somewhat modest, as CABL’s Barry Erwin explained to the Press Club of Baton Rouge this week (via Lanny Keller):

Tellingly … Erwin noted that turning around the state means becoming competitive not so much with rich Northern states but our friends like Kentucky, ranked 41st or so on many of the same lists where we’re farther down. But Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia all rank significantly better than Louisiana or Kentucky. It is a longstanding divergence of economic fortunes in the Deep South, between the coastal states of the Atlantic seaboard (and Tennessee) and the poorer Delta South, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas (and Alabama).

So what will it take for Louisiana to compete with the coastal states, instead of just aspiring to be more like Kentucky? Keller suggests the answer lies in higher education investments.

Which leads us back to universities, public and private. The immense economic and social impact of the University of North Carolina makes Chapel Hill a synonym for education as well as basketball. Same goes for the private Duke and the public North Carolina State universities. Funding such research institutions is not easy, even with priorities in order. But the payoff from those institutions is surely one part of the difference between Louisiana’s ratings and those of North Carolina. In a knowledge economy, how are the smarts going to be paid for? That’s the vision question.


Trump’s budget threatens after-school programs
After-school programs provide students with educational enrichment, nourishing snacks, and safe spaces to play. For working parents, quality afterschool programs are a lifeline, making it easier for them to provide for their families during regular working hours. And in Louisiana, need for these programs far exceeds supply. But as the NOLA.com | Times-Picayune editorial board points out, the federal budget proposed Monday by President Donald Trump imperils funding for important programs that help low-income families in Louisiana.

Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, said in a statement Monday: “If Congress agrees to the President’s FY2020 budget proposal to eliminate federal funding for afterschool, programs will close. Young children will be left without supervision. Working families will face untenable choices about how to ensure the safety of their children in the afternoon hours and over the summer. Learning opportunities will be squandered. Children, families and our economy will lose out.” In Louisiana, this money provides afterschool care for low income families. Those afterschool programs give kids help with academics, keep them safe and fed and help their parents manage childcare and their jobs. There are scant resources here that do all of that. The Afterschool Alliance says 115,540 Louisiana students are enrolled in afterschool programs, but another 256,040 are waiting for services.


A spotlight on mental health
In East Feliciana Parish, one of only two mental health facilities operated by the state stands as a crumbling monument to Louisiana’s disinvestment in vulnerable populations. Katherine Sayre’s new installment in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s series on Louisiana’s mental health landscape reveals a facility with a history of problems, ranging from security lapses to policies that add years to a patient’s involuntary stay for infractions as small as smoking a cigarette. Faced with the hospital’s significant list of deficiencies, the Louisiana Department of Health proposes to scrap the facility entirely and to build a $348 million replacement hospital nearby. In the interim, more than 600 people are stuck in a facility that the state has flagged as inadequate.

Tucked away in the town of Jackson, the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System is one of only two state-run mental health hospitals left in Louisiana after years of closures and budget cuts. Nearly all its patients arrive through the criminal justice system, after being deemed incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. That leaves virtually no beds for people who are not charged with crimes and need long-term treatment. That shortage has become more acute in recent years, as courts have ordered more inmates transferred from jails to the mental hospital, growing the number of patients held in Jackson from 555 in 2014 to more than 640 last year.  Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System, which includes a main campus and a maximum-security satellite location, must operate in some ways as a prison. Patients spend months or years in a health care facility that the Department of Health itself is condemning. “Physical condition of buildings, roadways, utilities and supporting infrastructure is deplorable, antiquated and deteriorating quickly,” the department wrote in its request for funding. “Buildings and facilities are becoming unsafe and are not conducive to a therapeutic environment.”


BESE committee backs bump in teacher pay
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to raise teacher wages by $1,000 and to boost pay for support staff by $500 cleared its first major hurdle on Tuesday, winning approval from a committee of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. As LBP’s Neva Butkus argues, the raise is a good start but falls well short of what’s needed to give teachers the same buying power their salaries commanded in 2008. If approved by the full board, the pay proposal will go to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote during the session that begins on April 8. The Advocate’s Will Sentell has the story:

The boost in state aid for public schools – 1.375 percent – would be just the second such increase in the past decade. The governor said the teacher pay raise would also be the second of its kind in the 10 years amid state budget problems. Louisiana leaders have grappled with recurring financial problems since 2009, including seven special sessions from 2016-18. Edwards said he wants this year’s teacher pay boost to be the first of three years of increases in hopes of Louisiana again reaching the regional average. Teachers are paid an average of $50,000 per year now. The governor said that is about $2,200 below what Louisiana’s peer states average, many of whom are debating teacher raises of their own this year. “We ask an awful lot of them and quite often do not provide enough resources for them to be supported as they should be supported,” he said. Others in line for $1,000 pay raises include principals, assistant principals and school counselors.


Death penalty “pep rally”
Attorney General Jeff Landry teamed up with Rep. Sherman Mack for a hearing on the death penalty on Tuesday that was decidedly tilted toward putting people to death. Louisiana hasn’t executed anyone since 2010, and there are serious questions about the state’s method for lethal injection. The hearing featured five hours of testimony from victims’ families and death penalty supporters, but no scheduled remarks from opponents. Neither Gov. John Bel Edwards nor Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc were invited to speak. Now, reports Greg Hilburn of the Monroe News Star, Senator Dan Claitor plans to propose a bill ending capital punishment in Louisiana, citing, among other things, the practice’s drain on the state budget:

“(The death penalty) doesn’t work, it’s not a deterrent, it’s prohibitively expensive, it cheapens life and it’s morally wrong,” Claitor said Wednesday morning in an interview with USA Today Network. “I know that there are those who disagree, and that’s why we’re having the debate. “We can’t lose sight of the victims’ families, but their feelings aren’t all the same, either. Not all families of victims have the desire to put someone to death in their loved one’s name, though many do feel that way.” There have been no executions of convicted death row inmates in Louisiana since 2010 because of the state’s inability to procure it’s preferred drug for lethal injection.


Lagniappe—crustacean edition
Yesterday was a big day in Louisiana arthropod news: the Monroe News-Star’s Greg Hilburn reports that Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser spared Clyde the Crawfish from a steamy demise, and NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s Tristan Baurick describes new findings from marine biologist Craig McClain, Executive Director of the Louisiana University Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who documented the surprising appetites of giant gulf isopods—foot-long sea insects that inhabit the gulf’s darkest depths. McClain lowered alligator carcasses and recording equipment to the gulf floor, capturing vivid images of isopods consuming alligators from the inside out, and providing rich fodder for this writer’s nightmares. LUMCON research provides important contributions to our understanding of the gulf’s unique ecosystem.


Number of the Day
$777 billion – Cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget to Medicaid and to marketplace subsidies that help people afford insurance. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)