Louisiana advocates urge transparency this session

Louisiana advocates urge transparency this session

Earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, the Louisiana legislature allowed written testimony in committee hearings as a way to protect public health. Unfortunately, many committees did not read submitted testimony aloud. As a result, regular Louisianians have had less opportunity to participate in their legislative process than people in nearly all other states. The Louisiana Budget Project, along with dozens of other organizations, have published a letter to Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, asking them for transparency this session, and for better options, such as video testimony, for the public to engage with legislative committees in the lawmaking process:

While the option to provide written testimony was an important change, this option was not uniformly adopted by each committee, and many submitted comments were never read aloud. Moreover, written statements are no substitute for verbal witness testimony that offers members of the Legislature the chance to ask questions and receive real-time feedback from their constituents as they consider legislation. According to a recent Associated Press survey, Louisiana is among eight states (13 legislative chambers) that do not allow people outside the Capitol to testify remotely via phone or video during committee hearings. 

No interest in reducing sales tax 
Louisiana’s combined local and state sales tax rate is the second highest in the nation, and the average Louisianian spends about 5% of their income in state and local sales taxes. But because sales taxes are inherently regressive, lower income households tend to pay much more of their total income on sales taxes than wealthier households. On average, households in the bottom 20% of income earners in Louisiana pay a whopping 9% of their income in sales and excise taxes each year, while households in the top 1% pay just 1% of their income. Despite Louisiana’s overreliance on this regressive tax structure, however, the legislature doesn’t seem to have an appetite to tackle sales taxes this fiscal session. Stephanie Grace of The Advocate | Nola.com has more

Still, it’s noteworthy that high sales taxes aren’t viewed as a problem that legislative leaders are motivated to fix, despite the general understanding in economic circles that sales taxes hit lower-income residents the hardest because they tend to spend much if not all of what they earn, and income tax cuts benefit wealthier residents. Indeed, sales taxes tend to be the go-to solution to periodic financial crises in the state, particularly with the Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature. They’re the ones who pushed in recent years to rely on temporary sales hikes to pull the state out of the fiscal crisis that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards inherited, while Edwards at first wanted a more balanced approach.

The racist origins of standardized testing 
The standardized tests that are part of every public school student’s life have been heavily criticized for benefiting white and wealthy students and placing barriers in front of low-income students and students of color. As John Rosales and Tim Walker explain in neaToday, these tests, which disadvantage people of color and people with low incomes today, had their origins in straightforwardly white supremacist projects:

In his 1923 book, A Study of American Intelligence, psychologist and eugenicist Carl Brigham wrote that African-Americans were on the low end of the racial, ethnic, and/or cultural spectrum. Testing, he believed, showed the superiority of “the Nordic race group” and warned of the “promiscuous intermingling” of new immigrants in the American gene pool. Furthermore, the education system he argued was in decline and “will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive.” Brigham had helped to develop aptitude tests for the U.S. Army during World War I and – commissioned by the College Board – was influential in the development of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). At the time, he and other social scientists considered the SAT a new psychological test and a supplement to existing college board exams. 

“Running government like a business”
The Louisiana legislature has neglected to appropriate funds for computer and IT upgrades for the Louisiana Workforce Commission, leaving the agency with decades-old technology as they attempted to meet the demands of hundreds-of-thousands of newly unemployed workers throughout the pandemic. Recently, the Louisiana legislative auditor has uncovered around $400 million in fraud and overpayments, but before we blame the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the Advocate’s editorial board urges people to consider pointing their finger at the Louisiana legislature

Let’s get real. One of the most over-used phrases is running government like a business. Even business owners in the Legislature — or, for that matter, the federal Congress — are part-time lawmakers and full-time political animals. They neglect basics like expensive computer upgrades because there is no political gain in it. With this experience still with us, as unemployment is stubbornly high, will the Louisiana Legislature put some of the federal aid it gets over the next two years to modernize administrative systems, and not just in the UC program? Let the witchhunt begin. But it ought to start with legislators focused on their own political interests rather than the long-term interests of the state.

Number of the Day
8 –
The number of state legislatures, including Louisiana’s, that do not allow constituents to provide testimony to legislative committees via telephone or video. (Source: Associated Press)