Louisiana’s financial picture is rosier than it’s been in a generation, with federal pandemic aid, surplus dollars and $1.6 billion in new, recurring state revenue available for lawmakers to invest. Legislators are signaling that they want to spend most of the money to reduce Louisiana’s massive backlog of road construction projects. While there’s no doubt that some of these dollars should go to much-needed infrastructure improvements throughout the state, an Advocate editorial argues that lawmakers shouldn’t squander this opportunity to also make much-needed investments in people.
By all means, let’s put money into roads and bridges, where those projects make sense and are backed up by sound planning. … But we have to do better than that. … We like the idea of teacher pay raises and investment — it’s an overused word, perhaps, in the Biden administration — in education. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the governor will be looking to put new money into early childhood education and state colleges and universities. The governor’s draft budget goes to the Legislature at the end of this month and while most lawmakers are of a different party than Edwards, a Democrat, we hope they will have similar priorities in mind. Education is the difference between the South’s rich states and its poorer ones, and everyone knows where we fit.
A literacy crisis in Louisiana
The Louisiana Department of Education reports that fewer than half of all Louisiana students in kindergarten through 3rd grade are reading on grade level – and that literacy rates have fallen since the start of the pandemic. In an effort to improve its scores, Louisiana is trying to follow the lead of an unlikely role model, as The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports:
(Assistant education superintendent Jena) Chiasson told BESE state education officials have held 10 meetings with their counterparts in Mississippi and other states. She said Louisiana’s goal is to show a 10-point improvement for fourth-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – known as the nation’s report card – by 2027. Doing so, Chiasson said, would translate into a ranking in the high 20s for reading skills. She said Mississippi officials launched their efforts in 2013 and showed major gains in 2019.
Taxing streaming services
Louisiana lawmakers are gearing up for a non-fiscal legislative session where they are not allowed to pass tax legislation. Their counterparts across the country, however, are finding new ways to tax streaming services. While streaming services have soared in popularity, the tax revenue that cities and states collect from cable companies has plummeted. Stateline’s Elaine S. Povich reports on new efforts by state and local governments to replace the funds they’ve lost when consumers have cut the cord on cable:
As more consumers drop their cable and satellite television subscriptions, the amount of money that governments can collect from these companies and their customers is shrinking. States and cities argue that they shouldn’t be deprived of taxes on video services just because people have changed how they watch video. But some of their new taxing strategies have landed them in court. “We are starting to see states look at this and say, ‘Our law no longer matches what the industry is doing,’” said Scott Peterson, vice president of U.S. tax policy and government relations at Avalara, Inc., a tax compliance firm. The governments, he said, are thinking that everybody who is doing “roughly the same thing” should be subject to “roughly the same tax.”
Feds stepping up to plug orphaned wells
Former New Orleans Mayor and current White House infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu announced this week that the federal government will help 26 states, including Louisiana, clean up the orphaned oil and gas wells that pose hazards to the environment and to surrounding communities. The new plan will help the Pelican State clean up its 4,065 orphaned wells — a project estimated to cost $401.7 million. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports:
“Millions of us, millions, live within a mile of hundreds of thousands of orphan wells that leak and spew. These wells jeopardize public health and safety by contaminating ground water, seeping toxic chemicals, emitting harmful pollutants including methane,” [Mitch] Landrieu told reporters. “Cleaning it up will take an all-government approach.”
Number of the Day
58% – Percentage of Louisiana voters who think it’s important that the state’s political maps reflect our racial diversity (Source: Public Policy Polling)