Another big budget surplus

Another big budget surplus

Louisiana collected about $1 billion more in tax revenue than it spent on government services during the fiscal year ending June 30, giving legislators a significant surplus that can be used for construction projects, debt repayment and other “one-time” investments. The surplus resulted from a stronger-than-expected economic rebound from the Covid-19 recession, fueled in large part by pandemic aid to households and businesses. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains, lawmakers expect to have $450 million to spend at their discretion after constitutional dedications are taken out. 

The Edwards’ administration recommends splitting the $450 million equally as grants for coastal restoration projects; address deferred maintenance, mostly on college campuses; and to cut into the backlog of road and bridge needs. “All three one-time uses, constitutionally allowed, and we think very smart use of one-time money,” [Commissioner of Administration Jay] Dardenne said. “The legislature ultimately will make that determination and one of the challenges they will have this year, unlike a lot of years, is we have so much of this federal money that is to be allocated as well and is to be dedicated to certain things. It is an unprecedented opportunity for the state to make one-time investments.”

With energy prices rising and hurricane relief dollars pouring in, Louisiana can expect the string of budget surpluses to continue. It’s critical that lawmakers use the money to address longstanding inequities that have plagued our state for too long. Click here to learn more. 

Critical race theory and new social studies standards 
Efforts to teach Louisiana public school students about the state’s legacy of systemic racism continue to be controversial with some members of the public. The latest flashpoint is the adoption of new state standards for social studies instruction. The state House Education Committee met to review the new standards on Monday, and Gannett’s Greg Hilburn was there

[State Schools Superintendent Cade] Brumley never mentioned critical race theory during his presentation, Instead of focusing on teaching history “in a more coherent way … rather than the choppiness of the story of our history” currently being taught. For example, U.S. history is currently taught in seventh grade, followed by Louisiana history in eighth grade and jumping back to American history in high school. “It feels like we’re really hopping from one topic to the next over the years,” assistant state Superintendent Jenna Chiasson said.

The state GOP is planning a series of events around the state – open to the public but closed to news media – to oppose history instruction that includes lessons about Louisiana’s history of systemic institutional racism. 

Many fear being left out of Build Back Better
President Joe Biden has already been forced to scuttle his plans to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, enact policing reforms and protect voting rights. Now, many of his supporters fear they will be left out of the new spending bill being negotiated as Democrats must lower the price tag of the package to appease centrists in their caucus. The New York Times’ Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Jim Tankersley explain the anxiety of people, including Amy Stelly of New Orleans, who fear being left out of the Build Back Better plan. 

And Amy Stelly wonders — thanks to a winnowing of Mr. Biden’s plans to invest in neighborhoods harmed by previous infrastructure projects like highways that have harmed communities of color — whether she will continue to breathe fumes from a freeway that she says constantly make her home in New Orleans shudder. She has a message for the president and the Democrats who are in the process of trying to pack his sprawling agenda into a diminishing legislative package. “You come up and live next to this,” Ms. Stelly said. “You live this quality of life. We suffer while you debate.”

Louisiana needs broadband to compete 
Louisiana’s Republican delegation in Congress strongly opposes the bipartisan infrastructure deal that Sen. Bill Cassidy helped negotiate. The crux of their argument: A chunk of money in the bill would be spent in economically thriving regions such as Boston and San Francisco. But as Mark Pethke explains in a letter to The Advocate, Louisiana can take some cues from the regions that our representatives demonize. 

I had to laugh when they objected to spending on expanding broadband in underserved communities, suggesting that there are no guarantees that the money would not be spent in, say, suburban Boston. Perhaps they should visit suburban Boston. It not only has broadband, but the region, much like that south of San Francisco, another community jabbed in the piece, is a center of a jobs base centered on innovation and high technology. You know, the future. Perhaps if we could make internet and its wonders reliably available in mass to our citizens in Baker, Buras and Bastrop, we could discover new sources of innovation and growth. But that takes investment.

Number of the Day
– Number of Louisiana households that would be helped by the housing voucher expansion in the Build Back Better plan (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities