Revitalizing rural Louisiana

Revitalizing rural Louisiana

Large parts of rural Louisiana are in an economic crisis, and Gov. John Bel Edwards is looking for answers. The governor announced last week that he’s creating a task force to address the issues, led by his former chief of staff, Ben Nevers. The 34-member Governor’s Advisory Council on Rural Revitalization will attempt to address population and job loss, and declining infrastructure, education and health care systems in rural parts of the state. Gannet’s Greg Hilburn reports:

“Rural communities across the country are in crisis, and we are no different here in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “They bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, lack adequate access to healthcare, education and other basic necessities. This council will help us identify their unique challenges and help implement effective and innovative Louisiana solutions. “It’s in the best interests of our state to engage in a centralized and coordinated effort to further the revitalization of our rural areas and make certain the resources are available to help them grow in a sustainable way.”


Pointing fingers for teacher pay
Gov. John Bel Edwards has faced criticism for not explicitly calling for a teacher pay raise in his proposed budget, although he did include an additional $39 million for school districts that could be used for salary hikes. But as the Advocate editorial board explains, parishes – not just the state – also bear responsibility for raising teacher pay. That’s because teachers aren’t state employees, but are employed by local school boards, and these boards have the authority to convince voters to raise taxes for increased pay for their workers. 

“The school boards want autonomy, but with autonomy must come accountability,” [Former State Sen. Conrad] Appel said. “And the only real accountability is when the school board must go the people for whatever funding it needs.” We agree, and there are sound financial reasons for locals, not the state, to act on teacher pay. When the state pay raise of $1,000 was granted last year, we noted then that it was not nearly enough. In some parishes, local leaders have stepped up with more significant increases. 

Not all school districts have the same tax base to draw from. A report by LBP’s Neva Butkus explains how wealthier districts are more capable or raising local revenue to fill in funding gaps left by the state. 


A health care system run by economists
What would our health care system look like if economists were in charge? A survey by the health economists John Cawley of Cornell University, Michael Morrisey of Texas A&M and Kosali Simon of Indiana University found that many of their opinions reflected broader public public opinion, such as support for the Affordable Care Act. The survey also found that economists opposed work requirements (77%) and block grants (70%) for Medicaid, two controversial policies pushed by the Trump administration. The New York Time’s Austin Frakt reports: 

It may surprise some that economists, who normally prefer market-based approaches to government programs, are so supportive of Medicare’s current structure. “Though they recognize the value of free markets, economists also believe that market failures are harmful,” the poll’s conductors told me. “In some cases, such as health insurance for the elderly, many economists think that society does best when government provides services directly.”


Don’t be like Georgia
Louisiana can look to Georgia to see how quickly things can go awry when you implement risky tax-cut schemes. It wasn’ too long ago that the Bayou State was where the Peach State currently resides – facing huge cuts to vital services because of decreasing revenue. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Wesley Thorpe explains how Georgia got there. 

After a stretch of strong growth during the 2010s, Georgia revenues slowed substantially in 2019 after lawmakers hastily cut the state’s top personal income tax rate in 2018. Other factors, such as a modest leveling-off of economic activity and an ambitious teacher pay increase that lawmakers approved in 2019, also contributed. Now, state lawmakers are wrestling with how to meet basic responsibilities like funding child welfare services and supporting people with disabilities and considering cuts across a range of crucial services. … Nevertheless, legislators are considering two more tax cuts that would further worsen the state’s revenue situation.

Programming note
: LBP is hitting the road with the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families. We’ll be in Ruston and Monroe on Wednesday, and in Shreveport on Thursday morning, to talk about the upcoming legislative session and what it means for kids and families in our state. The public is invited. All the details can be found here


Number of the Day
658 – Estimated number of deaths from childbirth in the United States in 2018. (Source: National Vital Statistics System via ProPublica