Louisiana’s state government is in a strong financial position amid a growing economy and two years of robust pandemic aid from the federal government. Yet public school teachers in the Pelican State are among the lowest-paid in the country – more than $12,000 per year below the national average. That could be one reason why educators are leaving the workforce in record numbers. The state’s teachers unions are hoping the Legislature will take modest steps to address the problem during its upcoming session, writes The Advocate’s Will Sentell.
Tia Mills, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said her group’s legislative committee Saturday said luring educator retirees back into the workforce is one of its goals. State education leaders say what used to be chronic shortages in special education, math and science classes have spread to virtually every subject. Teacher and other school personnel retirements rose 25% from 2020 to 2021. Veteran educators say they are grappling with unprecedented challenges just to make sure students have a teacher in their classroom. Mills said the drop has been going on since 2010. “It has been a steady decline in educators returning to work,” she said. “There are critical shortages everywhere.”
The president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, meanwhile, wants the state to address student “learning loss” from the Covid pandemic but did not offer any specifics.
Short-sighted tax cuts will not grow state economies
The state Revenue Estimating Conference meets today to decide how much money the state can spend over the next 18 months. Recent trends have been positive, as the state finished the last fiscal year with a large budget surplus. But the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s Neva Butkus explains that the good times may be fleeting, as state finances are being propped up by pandemic-era policies that will soon expire.
Many states lowered revenue estimates at the beginning of the pandemic, making surpluses appear larger. States pushed back tax filing deadlines amid the chaos which, while helpful for some families, means the 2020 and 2021 tax returns of some households will be counted in the same year. State health department budgets are being propped up with higher match rates for Medicaid dollars. Stimulus payments and unemployment insurance boosts helped increase spending and, therefore, state sales tax collections.
In Louisiana, the Legislature shifted $375 million per year away from the state general fund into transportation projects – with no plans for how to make up the revenue loss – and passed corporate and individual income tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy. The lost revenue means less money for health care, higher education and other vital services and 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.
IRS facing “enormous challenges”
The IRS is heading into the tax-filing season with the same size workforce that it had in 1970, despite the fact that America’s population has grown 60% over the last 52 years. This shrinking workforce, which already allows the wealthiest 1% of Americans to evade $163 billion taxes a year, will cause delays to refunds and other taxpayer services this year, according to Treasury Department officials. The pandemic – and increased workload from federal stimulus measures – are contributing to the problem, but so are Republican-led budget cuts in the years preceding Covid-19. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein explains:
“By definition, no matter how much more efficient you are, you can’t lose 25 percent of the workforce and assume you can do the same volume of work. It’s a problem across the board — information technology; revenue agents; people answering the phones,” said John Koskinen, who served as commissioner of the IRS under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. “The fact the filing season has gone so well over the last three years is an amazing tribute to the capacity of the workforce, but if you keep underfunding the place it’s not a question of whether it will have a major problem — it’s a question of when.”
Restore the Child Tax Credit
An unprecedented federal effort to reduce child poverty in America ended last month after Congress failed to extend the expanded federal Child Tax Credit. As a Los Angeles Times editorial explains, the expanded Child Tax Credit is an effective way to put children and their families on a path to a brighter future, and deserves to be restored as part of the Build Back Better bill:
By November, the tax credit kept 3.8 million children from poverty, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, reducing the monthly child poverty rate by 29.4%. During the six months of payments, researchers found that low-income families had higher checking account balances. … Among families receiving food stamps, three-quarters said they used the child tax credit to pay overdue utility bills or prevent eviction or foreclosure. These are families living in constant stress, month to month, to keep a roof over their heads and the power on. By the middle of the fall, nearly 70% of families earning $75,000 or less reported that the monthly payments “made them a lot or a little less stressed about money.”
Number of the Day
16,000 – Number of calls that a single IRS auditor is estimated to handle. The IRS has fewer auditors than at any point since World War II. (Source: Washington Post)