Lions and lambs at the Legislature

Lions and lambs at the Legislature

It’s been more than 30 years since Louisiana last raised its tax on gasoline, and the levy has lost more than 40% of its purchasing power since then. In the meantime, our roads and bridges have continued to deteriorate and the backlog of transportation needs has continued to grow. Instead of raising the gas tax, Rep. Paula Davis proposes to divert part of the state’s “temporary” sales tax – revenue that funds things like health care and higher education – to finance transportation needs. Her idea drew fire from progressives and conservatives alike, as The Advocate noted in an editorial:

House Bill 693 by Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, would redirect a portion of the current state sales tax to roads and bridges. It’s a measure that flies in the face of the standard conservative belief that user fees — such as fuel taxes and vehicle registrations — should fund transportation. The Davis bill arises from frustration that the Legislature cannot donkey-up and raise the gasoline tax — more than 30 years old, as anyone who drives on Louisiana roads can see. Even Alabama is ahead of us there, having raised its gasoline tax to reflect inflation and growth; just about every state in the nation has, too.

Support grows for legalization
About 43% of the U.S. population lives in a state where recreational cannabis use is now legal. So far, Louisiana is not one of those states, but if the Bayou State follows suit, the state could generate an estimated $100 million a year in new tax revenue. So far no state in the Deep South has joined the push to end cannabis prohibition, though the idea is gaining bipartisan support at the state Legislature. As Sam Karlin reports for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, the legalization push is being led by a 34-year-old freshman Republican over opposition from the powerful Louisiana Sheriffs Association.

People in Louisiana are seeing other states cashing in on the crop, (pollster Ed) Chervenak (of the University of New Orleans) said, and the generational divides often seen with cultural issues are tilting toward legalization, with younger people strongly favoring it. He expects the trend to continue. … While legalizing marijuana has been a priority of Democratic lawmakers in recent years, the idea is lately gaining bipartisan steam. Three Republicans voted for it in the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee last week. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by the Koch brothers, has gotten on board.

Civil legal “deserts” 
In Louisiana, we have four law schools and more than 20,000 licensed attorneys. We also have an under-funded system of public defenders to represent people accused of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. But for low-income people who need access to the civil legal system – to fend off evictions, handle a succession or challenge an insurer who has denied health benefits – much of Louisiana is a legal “desert.” As state Rep. Gary Carter Jr. writes in a guest column for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, only 150 full-time attorneys serve the civil legal needs of low-income and marginalized communities – a deficit the Legislature could address through more funding.   

Adopting common sense solutions to the civil legal needs of our fellow Louisianans can increase resources and dramatically expand access to justice in our state. We can equip every courthouse with self-help centers, court navigators and courtroom assistants. We can build a stronger culture of limited-scope representation so people can pay only for the most essential services. We can bring legal resources to people where they are, creating service partnerships with public libraries, places of worship, colleges and universities, health care facilities, and other community partners. We can no longer afford the costs of inaction. Every dollar invested in civil legal aid returns nearly tenfold to Louisiana communities in money we don’t need to spend on safety-net services. It is in the vital interest of our state to assist our people in their time of need.

A groundbreaking agenda
President Joe Biden has laid out a historically ambitious domestic agenda anchored by massive new investments that would expand access to health care, child care and affordable education while putting Americans back to work and reducing child poverty. Conservatives in Washington are balking, claiming that the plans are unaffordable. But what they’re really saying is that they don’t want to pay for these priorities if it means wealthy people and corporations have to give back some of the tax cuts they’ve received in recent decades. Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, elaborates

Some critics will charge that the President’s agenda is too costly — effectively, that the United States can’t afford to ensure that children thrive, that millions more people have health coverage, and that people can take time off from work when necessary. But these policies are commonplace in other wealthy countries. And the President has offered concrete proposals to fully pay for them over 15 years — that, is their total cost over 15 years would be paid for over that same 15-year period. Beyond the 15-year window, revenues would more than pay for the plan’s new investments. This would mark a welcome reversal from some two decades dominated by costly tax cuts. In 2000, after a long economic recovery, federal revenues stood at 20 percent of GDP; in 2019, again after a long recovery, they stood at just 16.3 percent. Returning revenues to 20 percent of GDP next year would raise $850 billion, far more than the Biden plan calls for. Research consistently shows that the tax cuts have done little to spur growth but have done much to widen inequality.

Number of the Day
16.3% – Federal revenues as a share of Gross Domestic Product in 2019 – down from 20% in 2000. That’s a difference of $850 billion, which is more than enough to pay for the investments President Biden has proposed (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)