Shell’s decision to close its oil refinery in Convent has turbocharged the debate about Louisiana’s energy economy. As Tyler Bridges reports for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, the oil and gas industry’s footprint has been declining for years – both in the number of jobs it provides and the revenue it produces for state government.
In 1964, oil and gas taxes financed 56% of state government’s general fund. In 1984, during an oil boom, it was 35%. The rate has steadily declined since then, nudging up during another period of high prices in 2009 to 13% but dropping to about 4.5% for 2020. The oil industry’s importance to the operations of state government has diminished in part because of the sector’s decline, but also because lawmakers have raised sales and other taxes and are taxing other activities such as gambling. It’s also because oil production in Louisiana has steadily declined, from 772,000 barrels per day in 1977 to 129,000 barrels per day in 2019, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. That’s an 83% decline over the past 43 years.
Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate columnist Bob Marshall writes that Louisiana’s energy future is more likely to involve offshore wind energy than fossil fuels. He points to a recent study by the federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) showing that wind energy produced in shallow-water Gulf of Mexico could serve nearly half of America’s electricity needs.
That report was arguably the best news ever for Louisiana’s future. It not only meant we could rescue thousands of skilled workers left jobless by the continued contraction of the oil and gas industry. It also meant we could also help reduce the fossil fuels emissions driving the acceleration in sea level rise, a problem the state’s scientists say will drown much of our bottom third over the rest of this century if left unabated.
Partisanship and public schools
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into public education from coast to coast, and the current surge in infection is likely to rekindle the debate among educators about whether children are better off learning at home or attending in person. The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that fewer than half of Louisiana’s 650,000 public school students are attending school in person, and that the pandemic has worsened existing inequities.
The highly ranked Ascension Parish School District has provided school-issued computer devices for all of its roughly 23,000 students. Also, 100% of students enjoy internet connectivity away from school, according to a survey compiled by the Council for a Better Louisiana. The Orleans Parish School District has issued 1,254 devices for its 46,000 or so students. Only 81% of students have internet connectivity, a crucial piece in any effort to rely on distance learning.
The Washington Post’s Leslie K. Finger and Michael T. Hartney report on their new study showing that school district decisions on whether to reopen or remain virtual is closely related to local political preferences.
The two main factors that determined whether a school district opened in-person were the level of support in the district for Donald Trump in 2016 and the strength of teachers’ unions. A third factor, with a much smaller impact, was the amount of competition a school district faces from private schools, in particular Catholic schools.
Momentum for minimum wage
If the Nov. 3 elections proved anything, it’s that Americans remain deeply divided when it comes to politics. But on one policy issue there is growing consensus: raising the minimum wage. The same Florida voters who gave that state’s electoral votes to President Donald Trump also voted to establish a $15 hour minimum wage by 2026. As Brookings’ Molly Kinder writes, the Sunshine State reflects a national sentiment:
While Florida’s split vote may seem counterintuitive, in fact, recent polls suggest it is consistent with widespread public opinion. Two-thirds (67%) of Americans surveyed last year by the Pew Research Center expressed support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this position has grown significantly, especially among Republicans and independents. A pair of surveys conducted in February and August showed a surge in support for raising the minimum wage. In the August survey, a majority of Republicans backed raising the minimum wage to a level where full-time workers earn more than poverty wages. Overall, more than seven in 10 respondents supported raising the minimum wage.
Aid deadline looms
As Congress remains deadlocked on a package of desperately-needed Covid-19 economic relief, the aid that states received last spring is quickly running out. The Washington Post’s Rebecca Tan and Rachel Chason report that some local governments are having trouble making sure those relief dollars are going to the people and communities where they’re needed the most.
Officials say the funds were slow to trickle down to them, in part because of political squabbling. Stringent and evolving rules from the Treasury Department complicated the process. For many localities, it has been an unprecedented task: quickly distributing millions in relief while trying to curb a rising tide in infections and fill gaping budget holes. Some simply did not have the infrastructure in place to make it happen. Now, as individuals grow more desperate for testing, rental assistance and business relief, officials face a looming deadline: If they do not use their funds by Dec. 30, the money must be returned to the federal government. Despite pleas from state and county leaders, a bipartisan bill to extend the deadline has been stuck in a Senate committee since August.
Number of the Day
46% – Percentage of public school students in Louisiana attending school in traditional classrooms. The rest are attending virtually or a hybrid model of virtual and in-person school. (Source: Louisiana Department of Education via The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate)