The Louisiana Legislature begins its annual session this week with more than $3 billion in extra cash on hand – money the state can use to build a more inclusive and equitable economic recovery after two years of pandemic and natural disasters. The Louisiana Budget Project, together with community partners, crafted A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana to provide policymakers with programs and policy solutions that can ensure these dollars get where they are needed most.
“Louisiana has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve some long standing problems,’’ Louisiana Budget Project executive director Jan Moller said. “But that can only happen if we focus our rebuilding efforts on the communities and people that have suffered the most from the Covid pandemic and natural disasters.”
The last time that Louisiana policymakers had this much money to spend was in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Instead of investing in families and public goods, they squandered the money with giveaways to big business and tax cuts for the rich. These poor choices led to years of budget cuts that left Louisiana workers and families even further behind.
“We’re not going to see this amount of money come into Louisiana for a long time,” said LBP policy analyst Jackson Voss, the lead author of the Recovery Agenda. “We need to make sure we use it to set the state up for the next decade, but that can only happen if we don’t conduct business as usual.”
The Recovery Agenda lays out detailed proposals focused on supporting workers, addressing housing needs, reducing poverty, helping children and making communities more resilient.
The State of the State
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that he will not be renewing Louisiana’s public health emergency as he delivered his annual State of the State address on the Legislature’s opening day. The announcement brought an official end (albeit, most likely, temporary) to the state’s Covid-19 emergency as Edwards outlined his plans for spending the state’s surplus cash and called for an independent redistricting commission to provide fairer representation for Black voters. The Illuminator’s JC Canicosa breaks it all down:
The state budget Edwards proposes includes significant investments in higher education, early childhood education as well as a $1,500 pay raise to K-12 teachers. In his speech, Edwards said he recommends a $2,000 raise for school faculty come of the first $50 million of any additional state money the Revenue Estimating Conference finds before lawmakers approve the 2021-22 fiscal year budget. The Legislature must approve a state spending plan before they adjourn in early June. “Shaping the future always, always starts with education,” he said.
Don’t block school vaccines
A pair of state legislators is hoping to bar public schools and colleges from administering vaccines to students. The effort led by Reps. Beryl Amedée and Kathy Edmonston would undermine public health, as The Advocate notes in a staff editorial, and would be particularly harmful to students who live in areas with low access to health facilities.
The proposed legislation would end the practice of Louisiana Department of Health teams vaccinating students on campus with parental permission — against not only COVID-19, but also diseases such as influenza and whooping cough. These school events are often the easiest opportunities for students to get protected, and in some cases their only chance due to larger access challenges. That makes no sense. If families want to take advantage of in-school vaccines, they should be able to without worrying about legislative posturing. That’s our definition of freedom.
Equal Pay Day 2022
Tuesday, March 15, is Equal Pay Day, the date symbolizing how far into the new year the average woman in the United States has to work to make the same amount that the average man was paid in 2021. It’s another sober day for advocates for equal pay, as women working full time were paid just 83 cents for every dollar that a man earned. The disparity is worse for women of color. CBS News’ Sarah Ewall-Wice explains how the pandemic may have made this shameful disparity worse.
The latest numbers may actually look like the gender pay gap shrank by a penny or more depending on the group, but because the latest data is from 2020, it paints a false picture. “All these millions of jobs and especially among low-paid workers jobs were lost in 2020,” said (Jasmine) Tucker (research director for the National Women’s Law Center, which did the analysis). But median earnings for both men and women went up in 2020, she said, “because people who remained insulated from the pandemic in terms of job losses tend to be those who had higher wages.”
House Bill 219 by Rep. Kyle M. Green, Jr. would provide equal pay protections to all female workers in Louisiana. Current law only provides protection for state workers.
Number of the Day
$50 million – Proposed investment in a New Career Transition Fund, which would provide stipends to Pell Grant and M.J. Foster Promise recipients to help low-income Louisianans support themselves and their families while training for a new career. (Source: A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana)