The $30 billion state operating budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year is a key step closer to final passage after the Senate on Thursday approved the bill with a series of minor tweaks. That leaves only a final set of negotiations with the House as the session speeds toward a June 6 adjournment. This year’s budget debate has been considerably less rancorous than in previous cycles, in large part because there is enough revenue on hand to finance the state’s key priorities. The Advocate’s Will Sentell and Sam Karlin report on the final sticking point, which involves funding for K-12 public schools. :
The Senate backed a budget that would deliver pay raises of $1,000 to teachers and $500 for school support staff as well as a $39 million block grant for school districts, as sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). That plan, which costs about $140 million, is the main difference between the proposal outlined by House GOP leaders and approved by the lower chamber nearly unanimously. The House GOP proposal costs a total of roughly $121 million. It would deliver pay raises of $1,200 for teachers and $600 for support staff, but without the $39 million block grant. Critics say the plan would not actually deliver a “raise,” only a one-time bonus or stipend, if the budget passes in the form approved by the House, though House GOP leaders dispute that. The Legislature must approve a budget and school funding formula as separate pieces of legislation that match up with each other for the raises to become recurring, Gov. Edwards and others have said.
The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace argues that this year’s budget talks have been marked by posturing as much as by policy. She cites the drawn-out (but ultimately inconsequential) fight over the state’s revenue estimate to a doomed-from-the-start move to roll back the sales tax compromise that has kept state government funded, if at barely adequate levels:
Of course, Republican ideologues in the House would insist the government, led by a Democratic governor, is simply taking in too much money, and vote to undo what they just took 10 sessions over three years to do in the first place. And of course they’d take that vote knowing that the Senate, which is also majority Republican but is more closely aligned with Gov. John Bel Edwards, would kill the measure — thus enabling the 73 House members who voted “yes” to boast of having opposed taxes without having to own the logical consequence of unpopular cuts to health care and higher ed.
Trump citizenship rule would disqualify most Americans
The basic premise of public benefits like SNAP and Medicaid is that in a nation of plenty, no person should go without food or health coverage for lack of money. Most Americans do, in fact, need help from time to time; public benefits help more than half of all citizens stay on their feet over the course of their lifetimes, softening the effects of bad luck and helping those born into difficult circumstances. But according to a new analysis by Danilo Trisi at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a change to immigration rules proposed by the Trump administration is so restrictive that, if it were applied to current American citizens, it would classify more than half of the population as a “public charge.” That, in turn, would make them unlikely to qualify for citizenship if they were forced to apply.
The proposed policy is so radical and would change the public charge definition to one so broad that more than half of all U.S.-born citizens could be deemed a public charge — and by extension and implication, considered a drag on the United States — if this definition were applied to them. The proposed rule does not apply to U.S. citizens. It is instructive, however, to consider the share of U.S.-born citizens whom the proposed rule would characterize as a public charge when considering the reasonableness of the standard.
New Orleans needs better transportation options
Rising rents have made it increasingly difficult for low- and moderate-income New Orleanians to make ends meet. And for many in the Greater New Orleans area, rising housing costs also mean being priced out of areas well-served by public transportation, leading to long and draining commutes or transportation costs that eat up their income. In 2015, New Orleans residents earning the city’s median income ($60,000 for a family of four) spent more than half of that amount on housing and transportation alone. That’s why fair housing advocates are lending their support to a “complete streets” policy that aims to increase access to modes of transportation other than cars. Andreanecia Morris, of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance and HousingNOLA, explains why improving transportation access also improves housing access, in a guest column for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune:
In a majority renter city, where 56 percent of our renters are cost-burdened, we have to do more to support our residents and connect them to opportunities. While the average New Orleanian with a car can reach 89 percent of the region’s jobs in 30 minutes or less, a transit-dependent New Orleanian can reach only 12 percent of the region’s jobs in that same 30-minute time period. Affordable housing mixed with improved biking, walking and transit infrastructure can only benefit community health, connection, economic engagement with local businesses, as well as improve the resilience of our environment. … Many New Orleanians regularly bike and walk around the city to do what they enjoy and get to work. We must provide an array of transportation options in historically underserved low-income neighborhoods, which can reduce health disparities and costs for families.
Politicizing the Census
The U.S. Census helps determine everything from the size of a state’s congressional delegation to the distribution of federal dollars. That’s why it’s crucial that the Census Bureau’s count is as accurate as possible. But a new census question asking about immigration status, proposed by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross over the objections of his own agency’s scientists, threatens to undermine the integrity of the census count by depressing participation among immigrants and mixed-status families. Now, as a lawsuit aimed at removing the citizenship question works its way through the courts, new reporting suggests that suppressing the count of Latinx residents drove the decision to push for the question in the first place. The New York Times’s Michael Wines has the story:
Thomas B. Hofeller achieved near-mythic status in the Republican Party as the Michelangelo of gerrymandering, the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country. But after he died last summer, his estranged daughter discovered hard drives in her father’s home that revealed something else: Mr. Hofeller had played a crucial role in the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision. … The disclosures represent the most explicit evidence to date that the Trump administration added the question to the 2020 census to advance Republican Party interests.
Number of the Day
76 – Percentage of women seeking abortions who reported not having enough money to pay for housing, transportation, and food. (Source: American Journal of Public Health)