Budget bills pass, with time to spare

Budget bills pass, with time to spare

The Legislature wrapped up its work on next year’s operating budget on Thursday with almost two weeks to spare in the session, sending Gov. John Bel Edwards a $38 billion spending blueprint that includes a host of new investments in education and infrastructure. By passing the budget bill early – along with companion bills that finance the state judiciary, legislature and ancillary programs – lawmakers left time to potentially override any line-item vetoes by Edwards while still in session. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, the budget includes new dollars for public colleges and universities, along with a fully funded TOPS scholarship program and a much-needed boost in the need-based Go Grants program. 

Salary hikes will go to college faculty, prison guards, juvenile justice workers and other rank-and-file state employees. Public school teachers will get an $800 pay raise, while support workers such as bus drivers and cafeteria employees will see their salaries rise by $400. That’s short of earlier talk of raises reaching $1,000 and $500, however. … But the budget doesn’t include new dollars sought for early learning programs. Public defenders will receive a funding boost, as will the office that works on elderly affairs. Workers who help care for people in the Medicaid program who have disabilities and live in home- and community-based settings will receive payment hikes.

Two significant spending bills were sent to a House-Senate compromise committee to work out differences between the chambers: House Bill 2, the capital construction budget, and House Bill 642, which spends about half of the $3.2 billion Louisiana received from the American Rescue Plan Act. While these spending bills include some much-needed infrastructure projects, the Legislature missed an historic opportunity to make new investments in the people and communities most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which was a primary goal of the rescue plan dollars. 

The Legislative Fiscal Office has an in-depth report on what’s included in the budget. 

Lawmakers send anti-trans bill to governor 
Earlier this month, an Advocate editorial accurately described the Legislature’s effort to discriminate against transgender girls and women in sports as “a solution to a problem that does not exist.” Ignoring this advice, the Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to Senate Bill 156, sending Gov. John Bel Edwards a bill that bans trans girls from playing sports. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains why the bill, which Edwards has promised to veto, would be harmful to already marginalized Louisiana children and the state economy.

There aren’t any cases in which a transgender girl or woman has disrupted sports in Louisiana. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association has strict rules that transgender advocates say make it impossible for transgender students — both boys and girls — to participate on the sports teams they manage. The legislation is at odds with the transgender policies of the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee, which both allow transgender women and girls in competition as long as they have medical treatment to suppress their testosterone. New Orleans tourism officials have said the legislation could damage the state’s economy. Sports leagues, business groups and major conventions have shown a willingness to boycott states that enact policies they consider discriminatory. The NBA pulled an event from North Carolina in 2016 after it enacted a law restricting transgender people’s use of bathrooms.

Biden budget would reshape economy 
The White House will unveil a $6 trillion budget plan on Friday that seeks major changes to the U.S. economy and would expand the federal safety net. The budget is expected to reflect previously released plans by the administration that would achieve President Joe Biden’s goal of expanding federal programs to better the lives of Americans. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein reports

The economy has improved since Biden became president, with the unemployment rate falling and growth picking up steam. But the White House has said much more needs to be done and called for more spending to provide access to things such as housing, educational programs and health initiatives. This new spending would keep the budget deficit above $1 trillion for the rest of the decade. Even though Biden is proposing numerous tax increases and other changes that he has said would raise revenue, these measures would not be enough to wipe out the gap between spending and revenue through 2031.

Race, class, and the college admission essay
More than half of U.S. colleges have made the SAT and the ACT optional for admission. Claims that the tests are biased along lines of race, wealth and disability have led many colleges to lean into “soft factors” like college essays to provide a more holistic view of an applicant. However, as has been seen by the disqualification of other seemingly neutral factors, it is hard to disentangle social class from the admissions process. Studies out of Stanford’s Student Narrative Lab have shown that essay content, syntax choices, and word choice patterns were all correlated with household income, even more than SAT scores are. The New York Times’ Arvind Ashok explains

Nonacademic factors like an essay don’t offer an obvious numerical pecking order like a G.P.A. or SAT score. Reliance on soft factors can allow college admissions offices to pursue their goals but deflect questions about which of the goals they prioritize. Admissions officials can say they consider every individual’s unique traits, but it appears these traits are mostly inseparable from socioeconomic indicators in applications. Colleges still have to make tough decisions in showing what they truly value, but it seems their decision-making will now be more obscured from the public.

Number of the Day
71% – Percentage of Louisiana residents who support increasing state spending on early care and education programs. Despite a sharp uptick in revenues, the Legislature refused to allocate new state dollars to help low-income families afford quality child care (Source: Louisiana Survey)