With early voting in full swing this week, The Advocate’s Mark Ballard provides a rundown of the four constitutional amendments. In many parishes, the amendments are the only thing voters will see on their Nov. 13 ballot, which suggests overall turnout will be low. The most consequential amendment is No. 2, which would trade a lucrative tax deduction for across-the-board tax cuts for households and corporations.
“First, it does not raise enough revenue to support the good schools, safe streets, reliable infrastructure and other services that families need in order to thrive,” wrote Jan Moller, head of Louisiana Budget Project, the Baton Rouge-based group that analyzes fiscal policies’ impact on low- and moderate-income families. “Second, it is regressive — meaning low-income households pay taxes at higher rates than those at the very top. This is because Louisiana has very high sales taxes — which eat up a disproportionate share of household income for low-income people, who must spend more of their take-home pay on immediate needs than their wealthier neighbors — and comparatively low-income taxes — where the highest rate applies to higher income-earners. “In fact, it would help cement the status quo. By capping the top income-tax rate in the state constitution, Amendment 2 would make it harder in future years to make the kind of fundamental changes that could truly move Louisiana forward.”
Gambit released its recommendations, and the venerable weekly is not fond of Amendment 2.
Amendment 2 is a classic political “bait and switch” scheme. The ballot language reads as though voters are asked to approve a generous tax break by authorizing lawmakers to allow taxpayers to deduct federal income tax payments on their state income tax returns. That deduction is already enshrined in the constitution — and Louisiana is the only state that does so. The amendment actually would eliminate the deduction and lower Louisiana’s income tax rates for individuals and corporations — but let lawmakers reinstitute the deduction later, which would be disastrous for state finances. We’ve seen this puppet show before. It’s a fiscal train wreck in the making, and voters should not be fooled.
Shifting away from fines and fees
Louisiana has no standardized way of financing local courts, relying instead on individual parishes to raise their own revenue from traffic violations, fines for misdemeanors and other crimes, plus a variety of other fees. It’s also hard to determine how much parishes are bringing in for their court operating expenses because local governments created their own protocols over time. But a state task force wants to change this patchwork of procedures and shift the burden of paying for courts away from the accused—disproportionately burdening over-incarcerated communities of color—and onto city and state government. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports.
Data is coming in from the 1,555 state or local entities that collect and/or receive payments from the fines and fees. Auditors looked closely at collections reported by 77 entities on the local level and found that defendants accused of contempt, including not timely paying traffic tickets, raised $3.2 million for those judicial entities. Criminal courts charged defendants $11.5 million for costs and $7.8 million in other fines. The credit card companies and third parties that collected the money received $757,000 for their services. Louisiana’s court system costs, maybe, $300 million to operate, [Rep. Tanner] Magee said, adding that’s only an educated guess.
The governor goes to Scotland
Gov. John Bel Edwards discussed Louisiana’s effort to transition to renewable energy sources to an international audience on Monday. Speaking at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, Edwards touted his administration’s embrace of solar and wind power and Louisiana’s place at the front lines of climate change. The Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports.
“The energy transition is going to happen whether we want it to happen or not,” Edwards said. “So in order to have the economy of the future we want, where we continue to be an energy producing state, we’re going to have to do more things like embrace wind energy. There will be lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico for wind energy probably in the next 13 or 14 months.” He also said the state is taking an “all of the above” approach that will include utility-scale solar, wind and other projects such as carbon capture being courted by Louisiana’s Climate Initiatives Task Force.
As Americans – and Louisianans – in climate-threatened regions wait for solutions to come out of the summit, Edwards told world leaders that his state is ready for the transition to renewable energy.
“For my part, I want world leaders to know that in Louisiana, we have the most productive manufacturing workforce in the nation, a workforce that makes essential products that drive the global economy and a workforce that is ready to make those products but with a greater reduced carbon footprint,” Edwards said.
Early childhood education is an essential expense
High quality child care is essential for young learners, as 90% of brain development occurs before kids turn 4. But far too many Louisiana children don’t have access to such care, which is prohibitively expensive for families living near the poverty line without public subsidies. Twenty-eight percent of Louisiana kids 4 and under live in poverty, and only one-fifth are being served by publicly funded early childhood care and education centers. Thanks to generations of discriminatory policy choices, Louisiana’s Black children are three times as likely as the state’s white children to grow up in poverty. The Lafayette Daily Advertiser’s Leigh Guidry reports:
The environment is an important piece of the puzzle, according to Susan Nelson, executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families. The advocacy group focuses on auxiliary issues and needs that also go into a child’s well-being. “Are (children) in healthy environments or stressful? Are they getting the food they need to grow? All of those pieces have an incredible impact on what a kid is going to learn when they show up in kindergarten,” Nelson explained.
Legislators have taken modest, but important steps to provide more funding for early childhood seats.
The Louisiana Legislature invested nearly $20 million in early childhood in 2020 and sustained that investment in 2021, the largest state investment in early childhood in a decade, according to the Louisiana Early Childhood Care and Education Commission.
Number of the Day
$445 million – The amount of economic output the construction of a 600-megawatt wind farm would produce in the Gulf of Mexico during the construction phase (Source: U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory via Workboat)