Gov. John Bel Edwards kicked off the 2019 regular session Monday with a “state of the state” address where he touted the tax compromise that ended years of brinkmanship over the state budget. In an election-year plea for bipartisanship, Edwards touched on familiar themes in calling for the Legislature to protect gains in the Medicaid program while giving public-school teachers a modest pay raise and increasing the minimum wage. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has more:
“The budget crisis that for years held Louisiana hostage is over,” the Democratic governor said to a joint gathering of the majority-GOP House and Senate on the opening day of the annual legislative session. The 60-day regular session is the 11th session of the four-year term, a span consumed with heated budget-balancing tax debates and conflicts between the governor and House Republican leaders.A seven-year tax deal struck last year ended fears of deep cuts across health and education programs that marked budget debates for the past decade. Still, financial disagreements remain front and center this session with Edwards and House GOP leaders at loggerheads about how much the state should spend in the budget year starting July 1 and what income projections to use.
While there is no “fiscal cliff” confronting legislators this year, a fight is brewing over the budget and the increased funding for schools. Greg Hilburn of News Star reports:
Edwards is less likely to get support on adding money for public school districts and higher education. Those are among the issues that will set the stage for the coming budget battle. “There will be a robust debate on the budget,” said House GOP delegation Chairman Lance Harris of Alexandria, who is also a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “The taxpayers are going to see a difference in philosophies — grow the government or control it,” he said. “The table is set to have that debate.”
Putting minimum wage to a vote
Gov. John Bel Edwards has pushed for three years to establish a state minimum wage, to no avail. This year he is trying a new strategy by asking that voters decide the issue. Senate Bill 155 by Sen. Troy Carter would amend the constitution and establish a $9 state minimum wage. If it gets two-thirds support in the House and Senate, it would go to the public for ratification this fall. Elizabeth Crisp of the Advocate has more:
“For three years now, I have asked you to support an increase in the minimum wage in this state, and yet, many workers in Louisiana are still no closer to a wage that can support a family or bring them out of poverty,” Edwards said during his annual State of the State address on Monday. “Even if you have in the past not supported a minimum wage for our workers, give the people of this state a right to decide.” Edwards noted that Arkansas recently approved an $11-an-hour minimum wage with a ballot initiative supported by 68 percent of voters.“We are falling further and further behind,” he said. “I challenge everyone in this room to look at your family’s finances and try to imagine making it on $7.25 an hour. For thousands of Louisianans, that is their reality.”“I believe it’s time to look outside the walls of this building and let the people of Louisiana decide if raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do,” he added.
Wide support for teacher pay raises and minimum wage
The vast majority of Louisianans agree with Gov. John Bel Edwards that the time has come to give teachers – and low-wage workers – a pay raise. The third release in the 2019 Louisiana Survey by the LSU’s Reilly Center found that almost 9 in 10 approve of a teacher pay raise, while 81 percent of the public thinks it’s a good idea to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour.
“These results show very strong, nearly unanimous, support for public school teachers and an appetite for pay increases—an issue that will likely be raised during the legislative session that just kicked off yesterday; however, there is more partisan division on whether the state should raise taxes to fund a pay increase for public school teachers.” Michael Henderson, director of the Public Policy Research Lab, said. The Louisiana Survey is aimed at revealing how people from all areas of the state view Louisiana government and its policies. The survey, conducted by PPRL interviewers between February 15 and March 7, polled 917 Louisianans age 18 or older from across the state. The total sample has a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points.
Research undergirds social movements
The Poor People ‘s Campaign and Moral Mondays, began in North Carolina, have helped shine a vital spotlight on issues of institutional racism and economic inequality. But the integrity of this movement depends on high-quality research. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, in a blog post for the Economic Policy Institute, writes how a movement can lose its integrity if it is loud and wrong:
In our contemporary society, researchers protect the integrity of movements in other important ways. When we started the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina, the first thing we did was create a budget so that we could answer up front the critique that always arises, which is “that would be a nice moral thing to do, but it’ll raise taxes.” As Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winning economist has said, we have to deal not just with what it costs to fix inequality, but what inequality is costing us. So, for each issue we wanted to raise, we calculated the cost of doing it, and the cost of not doing it. The research that goes into developing that kind of budget helps us to disarm the obvious critiques of our movement, but also puts us in a position to challenge our critics on the costs of opposing or stifling attempts to find solutions.
Number of the Day
3.1 – Percentage of Louisiana children without health insurance in 2018, well below the national average of 5 percent. (Source: Pew States )