Rescuing Louisiana infrastructure

Rescuing Louisiana infrastructure

The Legislature’s plans for spending the state government’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act funds are coming into sharper focus as lawmakers speed toward their scheduled June 10 adjournment. The Senate Finance Committee approved House Bill 642 by Speaker Clay Schexnayder on Tuesday, allocating about half – $1.6 billion – of Louisiana’s $3.2 billion in federal aid. All of the funds must be spent by 2024. The largest share of money – about $860 million – is earmarked for much-needed investments in physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water system upgrades. But legislators also set aside $490 million to bail out the state’s unemployment trust fund. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press has the story, including some of the ongoing needs the funds are helping to address:

“We all recognize this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said House Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, the Houma Republican who handles the budget bills in the House. Storm-ravaged southwest Louisiana – which faced new flooding this month even as residents continue to recover from the 2020 hurricanes – would receive $30 million for recovery projects. “They’re still rebuilding and will be for a long time,” said (Senate President, Patrick Page) Cortez, a Lafayette Republican.

Julie O’Donoghue of the Louisiana Illuminator provides a breakdown of spending, which includes $15 million for Capitol building technology upgrades. Advocacy groups have raised concerns that the pandemic has limited the people’s access, especially at-risk residents whose voices have been muted in the Capitol during the pandemic: 

(Senate President Patrick Page) Cortez said the pandemic has exposed certain technological shortfalls within the state Capitol. He said the Capitol needs to be able to have people join meetings virtually through Zoom or some other program, which isn’t possible with the current technology in the building. 

American Rescue Plan Act dollars provide a rare opportunity to help people most impacted by the pandemic – who are disproportionately in Black and brown communities – rebuild their lives and livelihoods. See LBP’s recommendations for using these funds to Invest in Louisiana here.

Infrastructure over corporate tax breaks
President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan provides a timely $2 trillion investment in our nation’s aging infrastructure — funds would benefit low-income workers and the overall economy, according to analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The investments, which include long-overdue Louisiana projects, would be financed over 15 years by raising the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% – still well below the 35% rate in place before 2017. George Fenton of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the latest economic analysis: 

(A) recent analysis by Mark Zandi and Bernard Yaros of Moody’s Analytics estimated the combined effects of the Jobs Plan’s infrastructure investments – in broadband, roads and bridges, and research and development – and its corporate tax increases. Using a model similar to those used by the Congressional Budget Office and Federal Reserve Board, they found that:

  • “Despite the higher corporate taxes and the larger government deficits, the plan provides a meaningful boost to the nation’s long-term economic growth,” with “higher GDP [gross domestic product], more jobs and lower unemployment.”
  • The plan would produce an estimated 2.7 million jobs, most of which would go to people with lower incomes.

Living on $100 a week 
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit communities of color and low-income workers hardest. In Louisiana, Black and brown families suffered higher rates of exposure and infection as frontline workers and were more likely to lose their jobs. While most laid-off workers qualified for state and federal unemployment benefits, people without documentation are ineligible. Annie Correal and Desiree Rios of The New York Times tell the story of Isabel Galán, a single mom of three school-aged children in the Bronx, who has been forced to get by on $100 a week. The state of New York has created a $2.1 billion excluded worker fund that can provide undocumented workers with one-time payments of up to $15,600:

Undocumented women like Ms. Galán were hit particularly hard, a recent estimate by the Fiscal Policy Institute found. Many had low-wage jobs in the service sector. Some were suddenly obligated to stay home with children when schools closed. Roughly 35,000 undocumented women in New York City had too little food to eat this past March.

Invest in our waterways
Louisiana is known for both its rich natural resources and its failure to protect them. Unfortunately, when we fail to take care of our environment – whether through unchecked pollution, over-development or by neglecting the policies necessary to mitigate climate change – we also fail our low-income communities. Decades of disinvestment have left underfunded a critical state service that provides lead testing of fish in our natural waterways – a problem caused by pollution. This leaves many low income and minority communities who fish local waters to supplement their diets, vulnerable. Tristan Baurick of The Advocate | reports

The environmental department’s fish testing program was eliminated in 2008 then revived with a smaller staff and budget in 2015, when the agency received a one-time infusion of $1.5 million that had been paid by power company NRG Louisiana Generating in lieu of a fine. Last summer, department officials estimated the money could support the program for a few more months or a year. This week, officials said there’s still money left but could not say how much or how long it would sustain the program. Al Hindrichs, manager of the testing program, said the department has considered asking state leaders to fund the program. “We’ve been promised general fund money,” he said. “I hope it comes through.”

Number of the Day
97% –  The share of urban “heat islands,” where temperatures are highest in U.S. cities, in which people of color are over-represented. (Source: Nature Communications)