Climate politics in the Deep South

Climate politics in the Deep South

Louisiana is on the front-lines of the devastating effects of climate change. From 2010 to 2020, the state experienced 30 extreme weather events, costing up to $50 billion in damages. The Pelican State is also the only state in the Deep South that is working on a plan to combat climate change. But as The Advocate’s Sam Karlin explains, the plan faces serious political headwinds in the years ahead: 

{Gov. John Bel] Edwards will leave office due to term limits in 2024, and it’s widely expected that a Republican will replace him. Parts of the plan will require unknown amounts of money, not to mention buy-in from a conservative Legislature that historically favors the oil and gas industry. And even within the task force itself, there are disagreements over a key aspect of the plan: how to decarbonize Louisiana’s industrial sector, which emits an abnormally large share of the state’s greenhouse gases. It’s also unclear whether Edwards’ successor will pick up the net-zero torch.

The bountiful executive budget
Louisiana’s financial picture is rosier than it’s been in a generation, and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget recommendations to the Legislature would make meaningful progress on many fronts, including a modest pay raise for public school teachers and college faculty, and massive new investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press is in favor of the spending plan. 

The Council for a Better Louisiana said the Legislature will ultimately decide how the money will be spent, but the ideas presented so far are a step in the right direction. … We hope legislators don’t make drastic changes to what is a sound budget proposal. Like PAR, we hope there isn’t a repeat of the last regular session when bills were packed with at least $76 million in legislators’ pet projects that were decided behind closed doors.

But as The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace reminds us, the good times won’t last because there’s another “fiscal cliff” for legislators to confront in the years ahead when recovery money dries up and a temporary $0.45 state sales tax expires.

The inevitable comparison here, of course, is with Edwards’ predecessor Bobby Jindal, who faced a surge in state income from post-Katrina and Rita spending and high oil prices — and reacted in the worst possible way. Collecting what felt at the time like untold riches, lawmakers in 2008 pushed for a big tax cut. Jindal resisted at first, sensibly understanding that the tide could well turn. But, whether to head off even deeper reductions or because he couldn’t resist the siren call of a massive tax cut to tout on the presidential campaign trail — likely both — he agreed to repeal the Stelly income tax increase that had been adopted years before in exchange for sales tax reductions, which stayed.

The rent is too damn high
Rising inflation is eating up historical gains in wages and the expiration of the expanded Child Tax Credit is leaving many families without a crucial lifeline that helped them make ends meet. Now higher rent prices, which have increased by 30 percent in some cities, are expected to drive inflation in the upcoming month and drive people out of their homes. The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai reports

Average rents rose 14 percent last year, to $1,877 a month, with cities like Austin, New York and Miami notching increases of as much as 40 percent, according to real estate firm Redfin. And Americans expect rents will continue to rise — by about 10 percent this year — according to a report released this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At the same time, many local rent freezes and eviction moratoriums have already expired. “Rents really shot up in the second half of 2021,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “The pandemic was kind of a pause on the economy and now that things are reopening, inflation is picking up, rents are going up and people are realizing they don’t have as much disposable income as they might have thought they had.”

A crisis in public education 
Public education is facing a crisis point. The pandemic has caused learning loss of students and the loss of teachers and other faculty members. This loss has compounded into falling enrollment, rising absenteeism and increased conflict between students. On top of all that is a political movement that seeks to make education a wedge issue for voters. As the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler explains, the most vulnerable students have suffered the most:

Damage was most severe for students from the lowest-income families, who were already performing at lower levels. A McKinsey & Co. study found schools with majority-Black populations were five months behind pre-pandemic levels, compared with majority-White schools, which were two months behind. Emma Dorn, a researcher at McKinsey, describes a “K-shaped” recovery, where kids from wealthier families are rebounding and those in low-income homes continue to decline. “Some students are recovering and doing just fine. Other people are not,” she said. “I’m particularly worried there may be a whole cohort of students who are disengaged altogether from the education system.”

Number of the Day
$15.8 million –
Number of workers in the United States who were represented by unions in 2021. This was a decline of 581,000 from 2019 (Source: Economic Policy Institute)