Louisiana faces a $962 million budget shortfall – the gap between anticipated expenses and revenues – for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The biggest reason for that shortfall is the anticipated loss of federal relief dollars that are propping up the current-year budget. Local governments aren’t faring much better, with cities across Louisiana looking at bleak budget forecasts as tax revenues decline during the pandemic. As The Washington Post’s Alyssa Fowers and Rachel Siegel explain, in addition to providing vital public services, state and local governments are major employers. Without additional federal aid, they could be forced to make cuts at the worst possible time:
During the Great Recession, local governments tightened their belts in ways that took much longer to undo, even years after the private sector had fully bounced back. By March 2014, the private sector had regained and surpassed the number of jobs it had in March 2008, according to the Census Bureau. It took four more years for state and local governments to return to near-2008 employment levels, slowing down the pace of the overall recovery.
While the stimulus debate is breaking down along partisan lines in Washington, it’s a different story across the country. The Post’s Griff Witte writes that mayors and governors of both major parties are united on the need for more federal aid to avoid budget cuts:
Instead of the “blue-state bailout” derided by GOP lawmakers, Republican mayors and governors say they see badly needed federal aid to keep police on the beat, to prevent battered Main Street businesses from going under and to help care for the growing ranks of the homeless and the hungry.
Marshall Pierite, chair of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana, writes in The Advocate that Native American tribes need additional aid to offset costs associated with the pandemic.
We’ve opened and closed our businesses and government offices multiple times to keep everyone safe, including voluntarily closing our casino, our primary revenue engine, for months to protect public health despite not being required to do so. As one of many Native American tribal leaders in this country, it is our job to step up and save lives. That job will be a lot easier with a national plan in place and an example of leadership in the White House that projects the readiness and willingness required to move beyond this pandemic.
Gunning for a gas tax
State Rep. Jack McFarland is the latest Louisiana lawmaker to set his sights on raising the state gasoline tax, which has not been increased for more than 30 years and has lost much of its purchasing power since then. A coalition of contractors and economic development groups support the proposal, which would generate an estimated $660 million per year when fully implemented. But the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that McFarland faces opposition from the state GOP and Gov. John Bel Edwards – and deafening silence from legislative leaders – making it unlikely he’ll garner the two-thirds majorities needed for passage.
McFarland, a businessman in his second House term, thinks he’s found a winnable approach for the legislative session that begins April 12. He’s coupling the tax hike, which eventually would raise an extra $600 million-plus yearly, with a package of oversight changes for transportation spending he said will prove dollars are going to projects rather than administrative overhead. … Louisiana’s backlog of road and bridge work has grown to $15 billion – not counting $13 billion in projects to improve traffic flow and lessen gridlock.
What explains Louisiana’s murder rate
The Pelican State has had the highest murder rate in the country for 31 straight years (most likely; Mississippi’s record-keeping is suspect). It also has led the nation in incarceration for most of that time. While no single factor explains these shameful rankings, they are tied to our high rate of poverty, systemic racism, easy availability of guns and an historic distrust of law enforcement. Jeff Asher, Ben Horwitz and Toni Monkowic dig for answers in a report for The New York Times’ Upshot blog:
“When you expose people to violent environments, and the most violent environment in the U.S. on a per-capita basis is a jail/prison, it is much more likely that they are going to have picked up violent practices to survive,” said Flozell Daniels, the chief executive of the Foundation for Louisiana, who was the governor’s appointee to the state’s 2017 Justice Reinvestment Task Force. “This argument that public safety and a diminishment of violence is somehow attached to mass incarceration falls flat. If that were the case, we’d be the safest place in the world.”
America needs a stronger child tax credit
Much of the aid proposed in the $1.9 trillion economic relief package working its way through Congress would be temporary – designed to give families, communities and health authorities the resources they need to get through the pandemic. But one part of the plan would usher in a long-overdue policy change that could have long-term benefits. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman explains why the enhancements to the federal Child Tax Credit are so important:
The legislation in process seems set to increase the size of the credit to $3,000, and $3,600 for children under age 6. It would also make the credit fully refundable — that is, even low-income parents would receive the full amount. The result would be a major improvement in the financial condition of many struggling parents, and hence in the lives of millions of children. … As one recent survey of research put it, there are “positive long-run benefits of having access to safety net programs in childhood, leading to improvements to both health and economic productivity in adulthood.”
Deadline approaching for the State Policy Fellowship Program
Applications for the 2021 class of State Policy Fellows are due next Friday, February 19, 2021. The State Policy Fellowship is an exceptional opportunity to develop in-depth policy expertise. Fellowship responsibilities include tracking and analyzing legislative proposals and state budgets as well as conducting research and analysis on state budget, tax and other issues to improve the lives of families from all backgrounds.
Fellows in this cohort would begin in August 2021. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Click here to apply.
Number of the Day
84% – Percentage of murders in Louisiana in 2019 that were committed with a handgun; the national average is 74% (Source: New York Times)