A Capitol power struggle

A Capitol power struggle

The state Legislature will gavel in to a month-long special session Monday evening with a sprawling 70-item agenda that includes hurricane relief, the fate of the state unemployment trust fund and dozens of topics that are seemingly unrelated to the public health and economic emergencies Louisiana is facing. But perhaps the most critical question for lawmakers is whether to curb the governor’s powers during a public health emergency. The push to restrain those powers spring from some legislators’ irritation over mask mandates, bar closures and restrictions on high school football. Nola.com | The Advocate’s Will Sentell and Tyler Bridges report that cutting the governor’s executive powers could have unintended consequences: 

The Edwards administration has kept any petition from securing enough signatures by warning lawmakers that overturning his public health emergency proclamation would violate a state agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and could force a cut off of federal money that has helped the state weather the pandemic. Besides, Edwards administration officials say, even a petition that did obtain signatures from a majority of members cannot legally nullify the governor’s public health emergency proclamations.

The Nola.com |The Advocate’s editorial board thinks “thirty days of locusts would be better” than going into session with no clear agenda during a time of political and financial uncertainty. 

The list of uncertainties facing Louisiana is long, economically and in terms of public health. The list of potential problems that a Legislature can make worse is even longer.

The AP’s Melinda Deslatte writes that the coming clash reflects changing political dynamics in a state where governors have traditionally enjoyed great deference from legislators. 

The dispute has been simmering for months in an outgrowth of larger philosophical and political clashes between a majority-Republican Legislature asserting its independence and a Democratic governor who won statewide reelection last year to his second term. GOP legislators say they are hearing louder complaints from Louisiana residents who are tiring of Edwards’ virus response and limitations on their daily lives.

 

The unemployment trust fund is almost empty
Another top focus for legislators over the next 30 days will be the fate of Louisiana’s unemployment insurance trust fund. Before the pandemic, it had more than $1.1 billion available to pay benefits. But it is scheduled to run out of money by the end of next week. That means the state will start to borrow money from the federal government, and also means unemployed workers will see reduced benefits while businesses will pay a little more. Legislators appear focused on avoiding new assessments on businesses – projected at $2 to $54 per employee per year – but have few good options at their disposal. Nola.com | The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges

At some point, however, the state will have to repay the money it borrows and to replenish the unemployment trust fund, which is funded by a tax on employers. … One likely possibility is to have the state Legislature, during the special session that begins Monday, suspend the trigger provision that would require the tax surcharge and benefit cut. That move would suspend the trigger from taking effect for one year.

By punting the state’s financial problems to next year, the Legislature would essentially pin its hopes on Congress approving a bailout for Louisiana and other states that have drained their unemployment funds. 

 

$750
A blockbuster report from The New York Times shows President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. That is not only far less than most wealthy people, but also much less than workers who struggle to make ends meet pay each year. The newspaper provides an in-depth look at the complex web of companies and tax-code loopholes that have allowed the president to live like a billionaire while paying less in federal taxes than most of the people who work for him. 

Mr. Trump’s net income from his fame — his 50 percent share of “The Apprentice,” together with the riches showered upon him by the scores of suitors paying to use his name — totaled $427.4 million through 2018. A further $176.5 million in profit came to him through his investment in two highly successful office buildings.  So how did he escape nearly all taxes on that fortune? Even the effective tax rate paid by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans could have caused him to pay more than $100 million. The answer rests in a third category of Mr. Trump’s endeavors: businesses that he owns and runs himself. The collective and persistent losses he reported from them largely absolved him from paying federal income taxes on the $600 million from “The Apprentice,” branding deals and investments.

While Trump’s situation appears to be an outlier – most billionaires pay far more in taxes – it also serves as a reminder that most states, including Louisiana, tax low-income people at nearly twice the rate of the richest 1%.  

Separate and unequal
The school year in Louisiana – and across the nation – is proceeding along two very different paths. Some students are attending school in person, while many others are trying to learn remotely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Washington Post’s Sarah Fowler visits a 4th-grade classroom in Columbia, Miss., where Danielle Whittington suspects her remote students are falling far behind their peers. 

The dynamic in Whittington’s classroom is being seen in schools across the country as districts attempt to keep students learning in the 2020-2021 academic year while the coronavirus pandemic persists. Each school system devised its own plan for learning, based on local and state requirements, and their choices reflect geography, community infection rates and the politics of state leaders. … “We all know that some of these kids are sitting at home by themselves, some of them do not have parents that are equipped or feel equipped to educate them and follow along. You have some parents who are right on top of things and are sending stuff in that you’re not even asking for, and then you’ve got some parents that you can’t get on the phone.”

 

Number of the Day
$8 billion – $12 billion – Estimated amount of insured losses due in Southwest Louisiana due to Hurricane Laura. Nonprofits say the amount of donations flowing to the region has slowed, and doesn’t come close to meeting demands for help. (Source: The Advocate)