Gov. John Bel Edwards begins his second term today as the House leadership battle remains unsettled and many of his constituents are more focused on tonight’s action in the Superdome than the political intrigue at the Capitol. The Advocate’s editorial board notes that Edwards spent much of his first term getting Louisiana’s fiscal house back in order, and that he has laid out specific policy goals on education, transportation and other priorities. But the governor needs to explain how those policy goals connect to a broader vision for Louisiana’s future:
Is there an overarching goal for the second term of the John Bel Edwards administration? … (W)hen one is in a political minority, as Edwards is as a Democratic governor in the Deep South, it will help him to sketch out for all to hear the vision thing for the coming four years.
The inimitable Jim Beam writes that legislators bring their own visions to the job – including long-shot “ideas” such as eliminating the state income tax – and so do outside groups.
(Longtime progressive activist Melissa) Flournoy said many organizations have the answers legislators need. She mentioned the Council for a Better Louisiana, the Public Affairs Research Council, the Louisiana Budget Project, the United Ways, the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families and the Policy Institute for Children. The state needs to fund early childhood education, she said, address access to health care for pregnant women and early support for new mothers and families and work out paid family leave.
But before Edwards can implement a vision, he has a couple of key jobs to fill, as the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
The jobs of health secretary and Medicaid director may not be easy to fill. They come with a unique and often unpleasant spotlight. Across Edwards’ first term, Republican lawmakers regularly lambasted the agency, and Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has showered a new, intensified scrutiny and criticism on Medicaid.
Clemson beats LSU in the classroom
As LSU and Clemson square off on the football field Monday night with a national title on the line, The Advocate’s Will Sentell looked at where the two land-grant universities stand on the academic playing field. A decade of crippling budget cuts left LSU trailing its South Carolina counterpart on most measures.
Whether it is the annual rankings by U.S. News & World Report, spending per student, student/teacher ratios, graduation rates or admissions selectivity, Clemson fares better than LSU. But LSU is older, less expensive, has more students, is more diverse and graduates students with less debt than those who earn degrees at the South Carolina school.
Full-time jobs vs. the gig economy
“Gig economy” companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Waitr have changed the ways that many Americans think about work. While it’s easy to see how this transformation has upended industries such as taxicabs, E. Tammy Kim writes in The New York Times about the subtle ways that platform-based independent contractors are replacing full-time jobs in the hospitality industry, including unionized workers at top hotels.
In the beginning of the gig economy, people most feared one-to-one job loss: An Uber driver comes in, a taxi driver goes out. And taxi drivers have indeed lost their livelihoods — and taken their own lives. Yet many app workers are only part-time, driving or TaskRabbit-ing to supplement their wages in a traditional job. App companies, for their part, deny that even full-timers are employees, perpetuating the fantasy that gig workers are solo entrepreneurs. It’s a business model that reduces everything to a series of app-enabled transactions, and calls it work, leaving what’s left of the welfare state to fill in the rest.
A sign of the times
As health care costs continue to rise and medical debt takes an ever-bigger bite of millions of American paychecks, one Episcopal church in Alabama decided to do something about it. To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Brook, Ala., bought $8.1 million in overdue medical debt for $78,000 and forgave it all. Sam Prickett, writing in the Over the Mountain Journal:
Many hospitals across the country sell their past-due bills to debt collection agencies for pennies on the dollar. Those agencies often take a much more aggressive approach to pursuing payment. But collection agencies aren’t the only entities that can purchase medical debt. For its fundraiser, Saint Luke’s partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization founded by two former debt collection executives that works with donors to purchase and forgive medical debt “from the neediest cases up,” according to its website.
In 2016, medical debt in the United States totaled $81 billion, with one in six Americans carrying debt that originated in medical bills.
Number of the Day
$13,091 – Louisiana state spending per student in a four-year public college or university, compared to $20,085 per student in South Carolina. Still, students at Clemson graduate with higher debt loads than students at LSU. (Source: Board of Regents via The Advocate)