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Time to invest in Infrastructure

Posted on March 14, 2019

Time to invest in Infrastructure
The conventional wisdom in Baton Rouge is that tax increases are off the table during the upcoming legislative session. But conventional wisdom won’t repair Louisiana’s ailing roads and bridges, or unclog the highways that make commuting in South Louisiana such a chore for thousands.  The Advocate Editorial Board thinks it’s time to raise the gasoline tax, which is stuck at 1989 levels and has been steadily eroded by inflation. The editorial board pegs a gas tax increase as “perhaps the most pressing legislative issue for anyone interested in seeing Louisiana’s economy expand.”

Talking to a room full of business people, Shawn Wilson had a simple statement: “I challenge any business to charge what you charged in 1989, and still stay in business.” That’s what DOTD, the state Department of Transportation and Development, has been doing for years, said Wilson, a civil servant in the agency and now Gov. John Bel Edwards’ top appointee there. His comment to a statewide economic development forum in Baton Rouge underlined the problem of road and bridge maintenance and repair, much less expanding capacity where it is needed in growing parts of the state.

 

Women are underrepresented in Louisiana
Women are consistently underrepresented in positions of power in our country, from corporate boardrooms to elected office. Studies show that the underrepresentation of women in decision-making posts not only slows progress toward greater equality but also leads to poorer decision making and system design. A recent look at Louisiana politics by Elizabeth Crisp of The Advocate shows where we can do better:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 15 percent of the members of the Louisiana State House and Senate are women — up from 12.5 percent at the end of the last term in 2015, according to figures tracked by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The national average is 28.7 percent. The CAWP has repeatedly marked milestones in recent years for record numbers of female office holders across the country, but Louisiana hasn’t bested the 17.4 percent high mark that its female legislative ranks reached in 2005.

We have a long way to go. Abbie Shull, reporting in Lafayette’s Daily Advertiser, highlights several Louisiana women who have successfully run for public office and illuminates the current day prejudices that still must be overcome:

Even though the Republicans now dominate Louisiana politics, only one Republican woman, Suzanne Terrell, has ever held statewide elected office, and her term as commissioner of elections ended nearly 15 years ago. Terrell and three of the most prominent Republican women in the Legislature — Sen. Sharon Hewitt and Reps. Paula Davis and Julie Stokes — all say their party could be doing more to recruit women to run for office. “You don’t know if someone is good because they aren’t in office yet,” Terrell said. “I’m not saying to vote for a candidate just because they’re a woman, but the Republicans don’t know all the capable people out there because the party hasn’t tried.” [….] Hewitt, who was an engineer and manager at Shell Oil for nearly 35 years and had chaired a parish recreation board, said that when she started her first campaign for the State Senate in 2015, she was openly discouraged from seeking office. Her Republican opponent’s campaign manager “called me two days later and said that the powers that be met in Slidell and decided that it was my opponent’s seat; he deserved it and I was just a ‘PTA’ mom,” Hewitt said. “That fired me up. PTA moms make the world go around. By disparaging PTA moms, you basically insulted every female in my district. It was a great rallying call.”

 

College admissions falling short
Many disadvantaged students have long felt that the cards are stacked against them in the college admissions process. As the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes rich parents who gamed the system through fraud and bribery, students from modest backgrounds are getting more confirmation that wealth and privilege tip the scales in other people’s favor. The value of an elite education, many parents believe, is not only in the classroom content, but also in the connections that come from attending certain schools. Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds work long hours and endure financial hardship, to gain access to these networks in the hopes of brighter futures. John Eligon and Audra D. S. Burch of The New York Times look at how the admission scandal has affected high-performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds:

Students at Kauffman had their sights set on some of the same schools that wealthy parents used bribes to get their children into. It’s what the students call a harsh lesson in the limits of meritocracy. “It’s frustrating that people are able to obtain their opportunities this way,” said Khiana Jackson, 17, a senior at Kauffman who has been accepted to the University of Chicago, but is waiting to hear from her top choices. “We can put in work from fifth grade to 12th grade, every single day, come in early, leave late, and it’s still not enough.” “What does it take? You work every day, they still find a way,” she said. The case underscored the racial and economic disparities that plague access to higher education. With an expansive network of pricey college preparation courses and counselors at their disposal, wealthy students find themselves with a leg up in the increasingly cutthroat competition for the limited slots at the most prestigious universities.

 

Motherhood is more dangerous for black women
The United States is the most dangerous place in the developed world for a woman to give birth, and regional and racial disparities make becoming a new mom more dangerous for some women than for others. A recent USA Today article by Alison Young, John Kelly and Christopher Schnaars featured a heartbreaking story of a New Orleans woman who died of a stroke after childbirth at Touro hospital. The story sparked a series of articles and letters in The Advocate on the subject, including one by the medical director of Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative, Dr. Pooja Mehta, who reminds us of the work to be done:

No single institution or individual can change the reality of Louisiana’s worsening maternal health crisis. We rank 47th of 48 reporting states in maternal mortality. Black women are four times more likely to die of complications of pregnancy when compared to white women, due to lifetimes of differences in care, education, healthy environments, accumulated stress due to racism — or simply being less likely to be heard during a critical moment.

 

The president’s budget
The budget blueprint that President Trump released Monday is considered dead-on-arrival on Capitol Hill. But while it stands little to no chance of becoming law, it does provide a clear glimpse into his vision for the country. The budget would grow military spending while slashing deeply into domestic programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. A frustrated Washington Post editorial board aptly characterizes it as dishonest and full of warped priorities:

Such budgetary savings as Mr. Trump does claim to achieve over the next decade come disproportionately from domestic programs, including those targeted at the neediest people in our society. It adds work requirements — difficult to administer and sometimes counterproductive — to key safety-net programs such as Medicaid, housing assistance and food stamps. At a time when evidence of dangerous harm from climate change is mounting, the budget proposes to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, to the tune of a 31 percent cut in its budget next year. Defense comes in for a 5 percent increase, meanwhile, which might indeed be necessary — but which the president would achieve by invoking a special uncapped warfighting account, an obvious gimmick Congress won’t countenance.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has much more, including analysis on the effect it would have on vital health and education programs.  

 

Number of the Day
47th: Louisiana’s ranking in maternal mortality, out of 48 reporting states. (Source: The Advocate)

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