The surplus and the rainy-day fund

The surplus and the rainy-day fund

Despite the ridiculous claims of some critics, the fact that state government finished its 2019 fiscal year with a $500 million surplus is very good news for the state. The excess cash will help pay down the backlog of road and bridge repairs and reduce the state’s pension obligations. But perhaps most importantly, it will help replenish the state’s rainy-day fund that was depleted during the decade of fiscal turmoil that began in 2008. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that even with the new money, the fund is far behind where it should be: 

(T)he $406 million balance in the fund remains below the level of reserves that national credit rating agencies advise — and below the level that half the nation’s states have in their rainy day funds — even as economists have warned a national recession could be on the horizon. … While Moody’s Investors Service improved Louisiana’s credit outlook to “positive” last week, the Wall Street credit rating agency dinged the state for its low rainy day fund, calling it a “credit weakness.”


1 in 7 New Orleans adults face a warrant
There are more than 56,000 outstanding warrants pending in New Orleans Municipal Court. This means a staggering 1 in 7 adults in the Crescent City face arrest – in most cases stemming from minor violations such as panhandling or fishing without a license. Former Times-Picayune investigative reporter Richard Webster, writing in The Washington Post, reports that the city may be doing something about it. 

Now, a coalition of elected officials, local civil rights organizations such as Stand With Dignity and the public defender’s office is proposing a more permanent solution — wiping out nearly all 56,000 warrants, in addition to any debt accumulated from fines and fees. If successful, New Orleans would be at the forefront of a growing movement to curb the use of warrants and the threat of arrest when the underlying charge might be little more than public intoxication. 


Say ‘No’ to St. George
Voters in some unincorporated parts of East Baton Rouge Parish will decide on Oct. 12 whether to create a new breakaway city – and, eventually, a school district – that would be richer and whiter than the city of Baton Rouge. In a rare front-page editorial in Sunday’s editions, The Baton Rouge Advocate urges voters to reject the new city and says supporters are making claims that don’t add up: 

 If the notion that more government won’t cost more money seems dubious, then voters won’t be surprised that Baton Rouge business leaders, keen to the bottom line, are balking at the St. George proposal, too. After thoroughly reviewing the numbers for the proposed new city, the governing board of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber voted to oppose the idea. BRAC’s analysts concluded that the numbers cited by St. George backers didn’t add up.


Small town problems ignored in elections
The Advocate’s Mark Ballard has been waging a lonely battle to spotlight the financial distress in Louisiana’s rural communities. Small towns across the state – especially north of I-10 – are losing population rapidly, and many of those who are left behind live on fixed incomes. That makes it tough for those towns to provide basic necessities such as water, and means the state could eventually be forced to step in. Ballard writes that the issue is receiving virtually no attention on the campaign trail: 

The state has taken over four communities because of failing finances, pushing elected officials out of the way with court-appointed administrators with near-dictatorial power to raise taxes and fees, rearrange government structures and fire government employees. Two other towns are in the process of appointing a fiscal administrator. Another 18 towns are at the precipice, according to a Louisiana Legislative Auditor watchlist.

Number of the Day
$85 million – Initial loss in annual revenue to the East Baton Rouge School System if a new school district is created in the breakaway city of St. George. (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish schools via The Advocate)