The voters have their say

The voters have their say

Fewer than 14% of Louisiana voters turned out for Saturday’s statewide elections. The ones who did were not in the mood for amending the state’s constitution, rejecting three of the four propositions on the ballot. The lone exception was Amendment 2, a complicated tax-swap package that was described to voters in misleading language. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains

This amendment removed the federal income tax deduction from the Constitution, which allows the Legislature to decide the future of the $795.5 million write-off, and lowered the highest individual income tax rate from 6% to 4.75%. But a law dependent on the outcome of this election lowers the maximum rate to 4.25% — a reduction of revenue offset by the elimination of the federal deduction. When the dust settles, about 93% of the state’s taxpayers would pay less.

The AP’s Melinda Deslatte notes that the ballot language gave little hint about the substance of the tax swap: 

Louisiana also will eliminate the corporate franchise tax for small businesses, lower the rate for others and do away with most excess itemized deductions taken by middle- and upper-income earners. But voters didn’t necessarily know that from the one-sentence ballot language, which suggested voters were deciding simply whether to cut their taxes – rather than settling a tax tradeoff that won’t give everyone a reduction in their tax bills. 

When 93% of Louisiana tax filers get a tax cut, that means less revenue for things like schools, hospitals and safety-net programs. LBP’s analysis of Amendment 2 is here and our review of the other amendments is here

Infrastructure year 
President Joe Biden is putting former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in charge of overseeing the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill that is being signed into law today. The Wall Street Journal’s Ken Thomas reports that Landrieu, who served two terms as mayor of the Crescent City and also was lieutenant governor, was picked because of his experience overseeing the city’s rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. 

When he entered office, the officials noted that the mayor helped fast-track dozens of projects and secured billions of dollars in federal funding for schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Marc Morial, New Orleans mayor from 1994 to 2002, said much of the Katrina recovery had stalled until Mr. Landrieu took office and that he helped jump-start rebuilding efforts, from rail projects to street and water repairs. … Mr. Landrieu chaired the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 2017 to 2018, giving him a network of mayors around the country. As mayor, he also worked closely on issues of racial equity in the city and gained national attention during his term for his decision to remove Confederate monuments in New Orleans from public view.

Louisiana will receive a minimum of $7.2 billion from the new law, which will help address a massive backlog of construction needs across the state. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that the state could receive even more money through discretionary programs included in the bill, and that jockeying is underway at the local level over which projects will get financed. 

(Transportation Secretary Shawn) Wilson said he’s already received many calls from lawmakers proposing dollars be steered to their favored road and bridge projects. House Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue said he’s also hearing from colleagues with ideas for how to spend the federal infrastructure cash.

Columnist Bob Marshall writes that nothing less than Louisiana’s future viability is at stake: 

Our $92 billion plan to rebuild some of the coastal landscape we destroyed has come down to a race against sea level rise, now faster than at any time in the last 3,000 years. In fact, the state now says if current rates are not slowed, wetlands rebuilt by its planned sediment diversion will start being swallowed by the Gulf sometime before 2070.

Fighting the last war
Many economists believe that the lackluster federal response to the Great Recession – through an inadequate economic stimulus and a misguided focus on budget deficits – deepened and prolonged the financial pain experienced by millions of Americans. For state governments, the inadequate federal aid meant that services had to be cut when families needed them most. Those lessons were clearly on the minds of policymakers during the economic crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic. As The New York Times’ Neil Irwin explains, the response this time has been very different – and so have the results: 

This time, pretty much everything has been different. The federal government has backstopped people’s incomes, helping keep income tax revenue flowing; the stock market has boomed, fueling capital gains; real estate prices have risen; and people have been spending more on physical goods, supporting sales tax revenue. On top of that, the American Rescue Plan included $350 billion to support state and local budgets, reflecting Democrats’ fears of the kind of prolonged funding crisis of a decade ago. Add it all up, and state and local governments are as flush with cash as they’ve ever been — at a time of inflationary pressures and labor shortages.

CRT and Louisiana’s social studies standards
Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s governor’s race has given momentum to Louisiana conservatives who want to ensure that public school students aren’t taught about America’s history of brutal and systemic racism. The drive to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory – which isn’t currently part of the state’s curriculum – has become a flashpoint as Louisiana updates its social studies standards. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press thinks the controversy is overblown: 

Even though there are legal protections that parents enjoy in Louisiana and the fact that CRT isn’t taught in its public schools, don’t expect those seeking public office to give up their attacks on CRT. They will use CRT or any other education issues that they believe will get them votes. That is unfortunate because a June article in Governing magazine said “focusing on CRT at this time creates a huge distraction that diverts attention of public officials away from tackling what the public really needs: a return to some semblance of normalcy after a devastating pandemic.”

Programming note
Join us tomorrow for the final installment in this year’s Racism: Dismantling
the System speaker series, hosted by LBP and the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. Tomorrow’s discussion explores the impacts and legacy of social injustice on inequities in mental health. Details: November 16 at 3:30 p.m. CT. Click here to reserve your space for the online event.Number of the Day
13.6 –
Percentage of registered voters in Louisiana who voted in Saturday’s statewide general election (Source: Louisiana Secretary of State via The Advocate)