The budget bills start moving

The budget bills start moving

The House Appropriations Committee advanced a $36 billion state budget bill on Monday, the first attempt by state leaders to determine how to allocate money – including new federal Covid relief funds – to help Louisiana recover from the pandemic. The proposal from GOP-led House leadership largely mirrors the recommendations from Gov. John Bel Edwards, and leaves spending on most state programs   essentially flat. It includes a modest pay raise for public school teachers and college faculty, along with need-based college scholarships. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports

The higher education raises would vary, but elementary and secondary school teachers would get $800 pay raises while school support staff would receive $400 increases. Those are double the amounts proposed by the Democratic governor – but fall short of the $1,000 teacher salary hikes and $500 support worker raises that legislative leaders promised.

GOP leadership also unveiled how they would spend funding from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. Biden will be in Louisiana on Thursday to pitch his infrastructure plan. 

Of the federal cash, $400 million would be sent to the state’s bankrupt unemployment trust fund to help pay jobless benefits rather than using federal loans. Lawmakers would steer $300 million to water system upgrades, $90 million to expand broadband access, $10 million for logging industry assistance and $4.5M for grants to movie theater operators who lost money during the pandemic. Another $800 million in federal aid would be steered to a fund for lawmakers to decide how to spend later. “We’ll wait for the final federal guidance before we start allocating the dollars,” (Rep. Jerome “Zee”) Zeringue said. 

Nonsensical payouts to businesses
Currently, when a company in Louisiana gets more tax exemptions, deductions, credits or rebates than they owe the state in taxes, Louisiana cuts them a check for the balance, at a cost to taxpayers of $256 million per year. Senate Bill 240, by state Sen. Jay Luneau, aims to end this practice. On Monday, his bill advanced out of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs without objection. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard has the story

“It’s nonsensical,” said state Sen. Jay Luneau, the Alexandria Democrat who sponsored the legislation. Once the company’s tax liability hits zero, that’ll be the end of it and the state will not write a check. “Why are the tax dollars that my companies pay, that your companies pay, going to refund companies with more deductions?” Luneau said. The state annually exempts $9 billion that otherwise would be taxed and go into the state treasury.

The battle for 1042 Cutler Street
Alfonzo Hill is a 38-year-old single father who lost his restaurant jobs in the Covid-19 pandemic and has been unable to pay rent ever since. His landlord, Romeo Budhoo, is a Guyanese immigrant who scrimped and saved to buy and renovate properties in his adopted hometown of Schenectady, NY, and is now at risk of losing his small business as Hill and other cash-strapped tenants are months behind on their rent. The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow offers a moving portrait of the pandemic economy through the eyes of a landlord and tenant – and a housing crisis that looms when the federal eviction moratorium expires. 

In the covid economy of 2021, the federal government has created an ongoing grace period for renters until at least July, banning all evictions in an effort to hold back a historic housing crisis that is already underway. More than 8 million rental properties across the country are behind on payments by an average of $5,600, according to census data. Nearly half of those rental properties are owned not by banks or big corporations but instead by what the government classifies as “small landlords” — people who manage their own rentals and depend on them for basic income, and who are now trapped between tenants who can’t pay and their own mounting bills for insurance, mortgages and property tax. 

Limiting education on race is wrong
The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sparked a new public reckoning with the racist systems and structures that have oppressed Black people in America for generations. Unfortunately, Rep. Ray Garofalo, who heads the House Education Committee, responded to that reckoning by introducing legislation that aimed to prevent Louisiana students from learning about systemic and institutional racism. But as Will Sutton of the Times-Picayune | The Baton Rouge Advocate explains, it is vitally necessary for Louisiana’s students to learn to think critically about race. 

Critical race theorists disagree about some of the concepts just as economists disagree about aspects of capitalism, deficits and taxes. Skilled teachers and scholars like Kennedy can challenge students like me. They open eyes, soften hearts and cause us to consider other ideas. Trump and Garofalo were seeking to limit debate and discussion. They didn’t want federal employees and contractors or our youth to learn about historic and systemic racism as posited by critical race theorists. Kennedy said our pluralistic society should include various viewpoints, including those with which we disagree. He described legislative efforts like Garofalo’s as “very dangerous,” “very bad” and “very anti-democratic.” He said it’s ironic because they argue that we should be able to disagree with candid debate. Their approaches were systematic efforts to legally limit debate and our thinking. That’s wrong.

Number of the Day
$650 –
The maximum amount for court fees in Louisiana, which is the steepest in the nation. House Bill 604 by Rep. Ted James and a companion measure House Bill 232 by Rep. Joe Marino aim to solve this barrier for formerly incarcerated individuals. (Source: The Advocate