Louisiana is leaving its children behind

Louisiana is leaving its children behind

Louisiana does a terrible job of providing children with the resources and protection they need. Legislators in both parties pay lip service to the need for stronger state investments in early childhood education, but even though the state is flush with revenue – at least temporarily – the Senate Finance Committee refused to provide $6 million sought by advocates for early care and education seats. Will Sentell of The Advocate reports that child-care advocates have also hit a roadblock in trying to get sports-betting revenue earmarked for young children:  

(L)egislative leaders have passed the word that, even if lawmakers agree on the details of how sports betting revenue will be allocated, early childhood education will be capped at $6 million per year, according to Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, a key advocacy group. … State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Wednesday he asked the governor to request the $6 million that failed to get included in the Senate panel’s version of the budget. …  He said the setback is especially notable knowing that only 40% of children enter kindergarten prepared to learn. The state and local money would go into a state program called the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP. It allows parents who work or attend school to land subsidies so their children can attend early care centers.

The full Senate is scheduled to take up the $37 billion state operating budget bill – and several companion bills – today. 

Doubling down on sales tax
In Louisiana, the construction and maintenance of state roads and bridges is mostly financed by the taxes that drivers pay on gasoline. The reason our roads and bridges are in such disrepair is largely that the gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in more than 30 years and has lost much of its purchasing power in that span. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to shift $500 million a year that currently supports health care, education and other services into transportation projects starting in 2025, while also reducing the sales taxes paid by large industrial corporations. Julie O’Donoghue of the Louisiana Illuminator reports

As previously written, House Bill 514 only enacted a 4.45 percent sales tax on raw and crude medical marijuana. (Sen. Rick) Ward’s amendment completely transformed the proposal from a medical marijuana tax to a sweeping sales tax extension meant to fund roads and bridges. Ward’s proposal — which received backing from Senate President Page Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette — would phase out a sales tax on large plant and manufacturing utilities that legislators added five years ago in order to balance the state’s budget. … Ward has also suggested that .45 percent of the state’s 4.45 percent sales tax be extended indefinitely. Currently, that .45 percent of sales tax is supposed to drop off entirely in 2025. Instead, Ward wants to make that .45 percent sales tax rate increase permanent and use that money to support road and bridge projects after 2025.

Louisiana’s George Floyd moment
In 2019, the family of Ronald Greene was told by Louisiana State Police that he died in a car accident. The reality is that he died violently in police custody. Though state troopers were wearing body cameras, footage of the encounter only surfaced recently through reporting by Jim Mustian of the Associated Press. Columnist Stephanie Grace of The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate writes that the incident should serve as Louisiana’s “George Floyd moment” and provide impetus for reform: 

To date, the response has fallen short of robust. State police, acting on the request of the Justice Department investigators looking into the case, withheld the footage from public view until last week, after Mustian obtained some of it. Only then did they make the full video account public. And while Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis has talked of changing the culture, much work remains to be done to make sure that the state police better reflect the diversity of the community, that officers understand their obligation to step in if a colleague goes off the rails, and that coverups will be treated with zero tolerance.

Pink Tax prevails
Legislation to exempt diapers and femine hygiene products from the state sales tax cleared the Louisiana House this week. But the “pink tax” faces an uphill climb to passage as time is running out on a session that must adjourn by June 10.  Rep. Aimee Freeman’s House Bill 7 would alleviate a financial burden on many women in the state, and would add hygiene products to other basic necessities such as groceries and prescription drugs that are already exempt from the state sales tax. The bill hopes to build on a related measure, passed by the Legislature last year, that authorized municipal and parish governments to enact their own pink tax exemptions from local sales taxes. Wesley Muller of the Louisiana Illuminator has the details

(A) typical purchase of a non-food item in New Orleans would carry a total sales tax of 9.45%, which includes the state rate of 4.45% plus the combined Orleans Parish rate of 5% — which, itself, is comprised of 2.5% levied by the city, 1.5% levied by the Orleans Parish School Board and 1% levied by the Regional Transit Authority (RTA). If Freeman’s bill becomes law, consumers in New Orleans would pay a total of 2.5% in sales taxes on “pink” products because the New Orleans City Council has already enacted the local pink tax exemption on its portion of sales tax. The sales taxes from the School Board and RTA remain.

Number of the Day
111% – The percent that center-based child care costs increased in Louisiana during the pandemic, the second-highest in the country. (Source: Center for American Progress)