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Gov. John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone will meet for their first – and likely only – head-to-head debate on Oct. 30 (Louisiana Public Broadcasting from 7-8 p.m.). As such, it may be the last chance voters have to hear directly from the candidates about how they propose to deal with the issues facing Louisiana.
While all Louisianans have a stake in state government decisions, they matter particularly to families that are struggling to afford basic needs. In that vein, the Louisiana Budget Project has developed some questions for the candidates on the issues affecting low-income families.
State budget: The next governor will very likely have to deal with an economic recession. That means revenue for the state will decline, and the demand for services such as public education, health care and social services will rise. The budget surpluses of today could very quickly become the shortfalls of tomorrow. Meanwhile, financial analysts say that Louisiana is among the worst-prepared states for a future recession, due to the repeated raids on the state’s rainy-day fund over the past decade.
Taxes: The 2018 sales-tax compromise helped stabilize Louisiana’s budget and paved the way for only the second teacher pay raise in a decade. But Louisiana’s tax structure is the 14th most unfair in the country. Louisiana ranks 4th in the nation for income inequality, and incomes in Louisiana are more unequal after state and local taxes are collected than before. Louisiana’s income tax revenues also rise and fall when tax laws change in Washington, DC, due to our unorthodox federal income-tax deduction.
Wages: Louisiana is one of only five states without a state-level minimum wage, and workers here are paid some of the lowest wages in the nation. Louisiana also was the first state to pass a law that prohibits cities and parishes from deciding wage and benefits levels on their own. Because of this, many workers in Louisiana have not shared in the state’s economic recovery over the past few years and continue to struggle to afford basic necessities: Louisiana’s food insecurity rate is among the highest in the nation, with many of the state’s working families forced to choose between keeping food on the table and paying their rent or mortgage.
Health care: Louisiana’s uninsured rate has dropped to 8%, the lowest rate in state history and a rate below the national average. The state’s uninsured rate for children is even lower, at just 3%, a figure also below the 5% national average. And Louisiana’s uninsured rates are dropping at a time when the national uninsured rate is rising for children and adults.
K-12 Education: Much of the debate over public education in Louisiana has focused on the growth of charter schools, and the private-school voucher program. But the vast majority of public school children in Louisiana still attend traditional public schools. In those schools, teachers are paid below their Southern peers despite a pay raise this year.
Higher education: Tuition at Louisiana’s public colleges and universities has more than doubled since 2008, and Louisiana has cut more state support for higher education than all but one other state over that time. While students on TOPS are largely protected from these cuts, it’s a different story for nontraditional students, students from low-income families and those who are pursuing degrees on a part-time basis while working or raising families. While the budget for TOPS scholarships continues to rise with tuition, the funding for Go Grants has largely been stagnant.
Racial Equity: Everyone wants the opportunity to build a good life for themselves and their families, but people of color in Louisiana often face substantial barriers to opportunity. The average black household in our state has less than one-fifth of the wealth owned by the average white household, and earns only 63% of the average white household’s income. Black families in Louisiana have fewer resources to pay for a college education, to weather a financial emergency or plan for the future. And 43% of the state’s black children and 30% of Latinx children grow up in families earning incomes below the federal poverty line.