Gov. John Bel Edwards’s State of the State address, delivered Monday as the Legislature kicked off its two-month session, focused on addressing the inequities exposed and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Some policies, like boosting the state minimum wage, failed in previous years because of a lack of support from lawmakers. Others, like a teacher pay hike, were scrapped last year as state revenues plummeted during the early months of the pandemic. Edwards also noted that he favors using $3.2 billion in federal Covid funding on one-time expenses “that serve as many people as possible.” The Advocate’s Blake Paterson and Sam Karlin were there:
Edwards said he was eager to move beyond the pandemic – for “Mardi Gras parades to roll again” and festivals to resume – but urged lawmakers not to overlook the health inequities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic in the state’s low income and minority communities. “If we do not address these issues now, we are doing a great disservice to people who have already suffered so much,” Edwards said. “I don’t want post-pandemic Louisiana to look completely like pre-pandemic Louisiana – nor should it. Because we can do better.”
Legislators, meanwhile, expressed confidence that they’ll overcome political roadblocks to pass comprehensive tax overhaul.
“We’re going to pass the tax package in its full entirety,” [Stuart] Bishop said. “We’re going to change it from top to bottom.” That includes bills that would lower income tax rates in exchange for cuts to tax break programs and create a centralized sales tax collection agency. “I think the surprise will be we will come together better than expected on tax reform,” said House Speaker Pro-tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma. “We have a large agenda of tax reform and we’re going to make an attempt to pass it all,” said Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, chairman of the tax writing Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee.
Louisianans support investments in early childhood education
The majority of Louisianans support investments in early childhood education, even if it means paying higher taxes, according to new polling from the LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab. The findings show that residents overwhelmingly support more spending on childcare and on universal and means-tested early childhood education. More from the poll:
Fifty-seven percent (57%) support raising taxes to increase spending on childcare for low-income families. Fifty-three percent (53%) support raising taxes to increase spending on childcare for all families. Fifty-eight percent (58%) support raising taxes to increase spending on early childhood education for low-income families. Fifty-nine percent (59%) support raising taxes to increase spending on early childhood education for low-income families.
Pitching infrastructure directly to states
The White House released new fact sheets on Monday outlining mounting unmet infrastructure needs for all 50 states. This latest attempt by President Joe Biden to build public support for the administration’s $1.9 trillion infrastructure package aims its sales pitch directly at states. The Illuminator’s Laura Olsen reports on the new state-by-state breakdowns:
“What they really do is identify the needs in these states and how this package could benefit” states, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, adding: “There are different types of funding for infrastructure that would be worked through with Congress as the discussions proceed.”
Below are some highlights – or lowlights – from Louisiana’s sheet.
The Racist roots of habitual offender laws
Guy Frank was granted his freedom last week after serving 20 years in a Louisiana prison for stealing two shirts from a Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans. The courts handed Franks such a harsh sentence – more than 10 years per shirt – because of Louisiana’s habitual offender law, which allows prosecutors to impose harsher sentences for lesser crimes when defendants have previous convictions. But as the Washington Post’s Teo Armus explains, these types of laws’ weren’t meant to make society safer from repeated criminal activity, but to keep Black people in poverty.
In a dissenting decision last summer, (Bernette Johnson, former Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court) described how Southern states introduced extreme sentences for petty theft, such as stealing cattle and swine, in the years following Reconstruction. These measures, known as “Pig Laws,” criminalized poor African Americans recently freed from slavery and allowed states to sentence people to forced labor. Starting in the 1870s, they caused the Black prison population in the Deep South to explode, Johnson argued. Although some provisions were wiped away due to major criminal justice legislation in 2017, drastic racial inequities remain. Black people make up about one-third of Louisiana’s population, but they account for nearly three-quarters of all state prisoners with life sentences.
The Louisiana Budget Project is accepting applications for paid, part-time internships in its Baton Rouge office for Summer 2021. Click here to learn more and apply!
Number of the Day
$50 billion – The cost of damages from extreme weather in Louisiana between 2010 and 2020. This is equal to the total amount that the Biden administration has proposed for making the country’s infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters. (Source: The White House)