Small towns, big problems

Small towns, big problems

Small and mid-sized municipalities across Louisiana are struggling to pay their bills and provide basic services for citizens as people and jobs move away to larger cities. When financial problems hit a crisis point, the state has stepped in to appoint administrators to make the tough, unpopular decisions that have eluded local elected officials. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, the state’s own financial problems has made that process longer and more cumbersome than necessary. 

(Legislative Auditor Daryl) Purpera, who chairs the Fiscal Review Committee, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday that he had trouble finding qualified auditors willing to take up the unpopular job. “I tell them, ‘You’re walking into a hostile environment from day one and you’ll leave with everyone hating you’,” Purpera said. Until recently he couldn’t find the money to pay them. A revolving fund had been set up five years ago to initially pay administrators for the work. When the municipalities got back on their feet, they would pay back the fund so money would be available for the next town that needed help getting its finances in order. Except legislators never appropriated money. The fund has remained empty since 2014 and will until July 1. Lawmakers sent about $450,000 to the fund during the legislative session that ended earlier this month.

In the town of Bogalusa, for example, the population has plunged by more than half – from 25,000 to 12,000 – leaving massive pension obligations that were never fully funded during better economic times, and making it harder to provide for the needs of those who remain. 

 

Putting the brakes on payday lending
Predatory payday lenders – which outnumber McDonald’s restaurants in Louisiana by 4-to-1 – earn profits by trapping vulnerable consumers in long-term cycles of debt brought on by short-term loans with high interest rates. But commissioners in Caddo Parish have seen enough. Last week city commissioners approved a resolution that asks the Shreveport City Council to stop issuing permits for new storefronts. Arklatex’s Dominique Dillon has more. 

Caddo parish commissioners voted seven to four in favor of the payday loan resolution Thursday evening. In the resolution, it states payday loan shops offer predatory lending rates and target low-income citizens further contributing to a cycle of poverty.“Once you get it. it’s like your stuck. each month if you don’t pay it. it gets higher and higher.” says Shreveport citizen Rudolph Glass. Glass also says it took him an entire year to pay off a $300 loan which is why he is asking the city of Shreveport to freeze issuing permits to new payday loan companies.

 

More data needed on school safety
The February 2018 murder of 17 students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., drew renewed attention to school safety around the country, and prompted some Louisiana school districts around Louisiana to add police officers to their campuses. While public school districts are legally required to collect and report detailed data on school safety, a new investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center found large gaps in this data collections, which makes it impossible to determine if putting more cops on campus is making students safer. 

Sound data on school policing programs is needed: 1) to measure the effectiveness of these programs and determine whether taxpayer dollars should be funneled into creating or expanding them; 2) to help evaluate whether schools are complying with federal anti-discrimination laws; and 3) to measure whether schools are safe and welcoming for all students. In the absence of this information, anecdotes – while helpful in rounding out the picture – are the primary influencers of school policing policy, not rigorous research.

 

Support for student loan forgiveness
A big debate among Democrats these days is over student loan debt. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to cancel it, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren says that would be unfair to earlier college graduates who worked hard to pay off their student loans and would not benefit from the new break. But David Goldstein, writing on Vox.com, says earlier generations enjoyed many advantages over their contemporary counterparts: 

But you know what’s really unfair? The huge advantage I enjoyed graduating into the 1985 job market. I graduated with a B.A. in history — not the most valuable field of study when it comes  to job qualifications. But when I entered the job market in 1985, employers were eager to hire smart kids from good universities, whatever their degree. I got the first and only job I applied for — a cushy tech job I knew absolutely nothing about — at a starting salary of $35,000 a year. That’s $82,000 in today’s money. … Whenever an old white guy like me reminds you that “I worked my way through college,” remind them that in the 1981-1982 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college or university was just $909 … back when the federal minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. That means I could have paid for my entire freshman year tuition and fees with less than seven weeks of full-time minimum-wage work at just about any shitty summer job. But over the past four decades, average public university tuition and fees have increased more than 11-fold, to $10,230 a year, while the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has barely doubled.

 

Number of the Day
4% – Growth in personal income in Louisiana in the 1st quarter of 2019. The national growth rate was 3.4% (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)