State budget numbers coming into focus

State budget numbers coming into focus

Lawmakers are getting their first glimpse at the economic damage the novel coronavirus has wrought on state finances, and it isn’t good. State tax collections in April dropped $494 million – or 42.7% – over April 2019 (the figures do not include gambling revenue). Mark Ballard of | The Advocate notes that the numbers paint an incomplete picture ahead of Monday’s pivotal meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which will determine how big a budget hole Louisiana faces in the fiscal year that starts July 1:    

Greg Albrecht, the chief economist for the Legislature, says as bad as the reported collections are, several factors could improve the numbers. “We are not yet really seeing, in the data, the impact of the COVID shutdown,” Albrecht said. Much of the decline in Revenue’s April receipts report could be administratively based. For instance, the report shows that sales tax collections dropped 14% from last April. Those numbers are largely based off of transactions that took place in March. His records show that March had about 55,000 transactions, roughly 52% below last year. But many retailers haven’t submitted sales taxes. The state gave businesses more time to turn in sales tax receipts. The question remains how much more sales taxes will be turned over once retailers start paying, he said.


ITEP reforms should hold
A business-dominated legislative task force is recommending rolling back the historic reforms to Louisiana’s generous Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). The Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force also wants to protect corporations from lawsuits and opposes requiring businesses to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for their workers unless it’s financed by the government.  Stephanie Riegel of the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report has the story: 

The task force recommendations and, specifically, the threat to the hard-fought ITEP changes made three years ago, are drawing criticism from the community organization Together Louisiana, which advocated for the ITEP reforms and has tracked how much the state tax break has cost local governments over the years. “We’re facing a public health emergency and the worst fiscal crisis in state history,” Together Louisiana says in a statement. “LABI’s (Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) response is to seize control of revenue from public schools, parish governments and local hospital districts. It’s their same, stale dish of corporate welfare, warmed-over for another meal. Louisiana has had enough of it.”


Fair elections in a time of coronavirus
The novel coronavirus has impacted black and brown communities more than white communities. A federal lawsuit filed by the Louisiana chapter of the NAACP, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and four individual voters aims to ensure this negative impact doesn’t extend to our upcoming elections. Republican lawmakers recently altered the state’s emergency election plan to limit the expansion of mail-in ballots making it harder for those impacted by the coronavirus to qualify. Sam Karlin of The Advocate reports: 

“Risking your health, and the health of your family, should not be a requirement to partake in the electoral process,” Catherine Meza, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. “We are hoping this lawsuit not only increases access to absentee voting but also makes in-person voting safer, so that Louisianans can exercise their constitutional right without putting their lives at risk.”


Going hungry on Mother’s Day
On the weekend when we celebrate mothers, too many moms will struggle with a harsh reality: They don’t have enough money to put food on the table. The number of young children going hungry has now reached unprecedented levels in modern times. Families headed by single mothers are hardest hit, with nearly 1 in 5 reporting their children are not getting enough to eat, a rate three times higher than the worst of the Great Recession according to new analysis by Lauren Bauer of the Brookings Institution. Yet, Republican lawmakers are resisting calls to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits during the economic crisis. Jason DeParle of The New York Times reports and provides insight from those on the frontlines of the crisis: 

“This program is the single most powerful anti-hunger tool that we have and one of the most important economic development tools,” said Kate Maehr, the head of the Chicago food bank. “Not to use it when we have so many people who are in such great need is heartbreaking. This is not a war that charity can win.”


Number of the Day:
14.7% – April’s unemployment rate – the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. (Source: Economic Policy Institute analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey)