The Legislature wrapped up its shortened regular session on Monday, and immediately gaveled in a 30-day special session that will focus on state budget issues and pandemic recovery. In addition to approving “tort reform” legislation long sought by business interests, legislators approved several bills that could hinder Louisiana’s recovery from Covid-19 and from the ensuing economic crisis. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
In the final minutes of the regular session, lawmakers passed a Republican-crafted plan that carves out $300 million for small business grants from $811 million in federal COVID-19 aid that Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted to steer to local government agencies for virus-related expenses. The remaining $511 million would reimburse municipalities for their virus spending … To boost businesses impacted by the coronavirus, lawmakers gave final passage Monday to a temporary suspension of the corporate franchise tax on small businesses and to creation of a new payroll subsidy for certain retailers and restaurants.
Lawmakers also passed legislation that subsidizes some of the lowest-paying jobs in the state, with no requirements that employers offer any of the benefits or higher wages that we associate with good jobs. As LBP’s Jan Moller explains in written testimony, House Bill 846 – an incentive for employers to hire workers for minimum wage jobs with no benefits that were going to be filled anyway – is a bad idea.
The Legislative Fiscal Office analyzed this bill and said it could “result in substantial state revenue losses.” It doesn’t take an economist to understand why: The industries in question have shed more than 100,000 jobs since the Covid-19 economic shutdown began in mid-March. As the economy reopens and recovers, many of these workers will be re-hired for their old jobs. With this bill, you would be committing the taxpayers of Louisiana to subsidizing economic activity that will happen anyway.
Seriously, stop digging
When the Legislature returned from its six-week hiatus, Louisiana lawmakers should have prioritized passing a state budget and passing bills that offer targeted relief from the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, our legislators spent much of their limited time on measures that had nothing to do with the recovery effort, like making it easier for people to carry guns into churches and lawsuits involving car accidents. But as The Advocate | Times-Picayune editorial board explains, lawmakers’ plan for the special session would be disastrous for the state’s recovery effort.
The call by lawmakers — as opposed to by the governor, who traditionally controls special session agendas but did not object to the Legislature’s initiative — includes not only coronavirus and budget matters but also some long-sought business priorities of the state’s powerful business lobby, including the business tax cuts that would blow a hole in the budget even as Louisiana’s economic recovery likely remains far off. We know this is a bad idea from experience; Louisiana recklessly cut income taxes in 2008 and spent a decade digging its way out.
Black Americans face risky recovery
The jobless rate for black Americans has historically been twice as high compared to whites. But in the pandemic-induced economic crisis, fewer than half of black Americans have a job, and many fear their recovery will be slower because of a racist system that prevented them from creating the economic cushion needed to weather a recession of this magnitude. The New York Time’s Jeanna Smialek and Jim Tankersley report:
Workers across racial and ethnic groups have seen unemployment shoot higher amid state and local lockdowns in the pandemic, but many black workers fall into two fraught categories: They are either essential workers on the front lines, exposed to the virus, or they have lost their jobs. Black workers make up 11.9 percent of all employees but 17 percent of front-line workers, one study found. “We need to recognize that unless we are OK with black and brown families always bearing the burden of these sorts of things, we need to address the underlying disparities,” said Valerie Wilson, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Can we control outbreaks at nursing homes?
Despite knowing the causes, we may not be able to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks at nursing homes. This is bad news for Louisiana, which has the sixth-highest share of nursing home and assisted living facility deaths caused by Covid-19 in the country. The inability stems from structural issues that have long plagued nursing homes, like lack of adequate infection control and staff shortages to other basic factors like the facilities’ physical structure. Axios’ Caitlin Owens explains:
Yes, but: That’s when nursing homes’ long-standing problems present themselves once again. The physical structure of the nursing home becomes very important, including details about things like shared bathrooms, where the nurses’ station is, and how air circulates through the building, David Grabowski, a Harvard professor who studies post-acute care, told me. “Some facilities have tried to set up [coronavirus] units or wings or floors,” he said. “Sometimes that’s doable based on the numbers and the layout, and sometimes it’s not.”
The Louisiana Budget Project works every day to create a more fair and equitable economy where every person and community has the tools and support they need to thrive. Through the Daily Dime, we strive to provide news, data and information that Louisianans can use to advocate for themselves and others. If you value this work, please consider making a one-time or ongoing contribution.
Number of the Day
40% – Percentage of children in East Carroll Parish that are food insecure. This is the highest rate in the nation, comparable to Bangladesh and Peru. (Source: Save the Children via The Nation)