“Groundhog Day” for minimum wage

“Groundhog Day” for minimum wage

Fifty-two bills have been filed in Louisiana since 2009 seeking to establish a statewide minimum wage. All 52 of them have been shot down, despite polls that show strong public support for laws requiring businesses to pay their workers a more decent wage. The latest skirmish took place Thursday in the House Labor Committee, which spent several hours debating multiple measures before voting along party lines to support the state’s powerful business lobby over low-wage workers. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports

(Rep. C. Denise Marcelle’s) proposal (House Bill 311) would have established a state minimum wage at $10 per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2023, rising to $12 per hour by Jan. 1, 2024. By 2024, the higher pay would impact about 206,000 workers – about 12% of the state’s workforce – and pull two-thirds of the working poor out of poverty, according to the Louisiana Budget Project, a Baton Rouge-based think tank that supported the legislation.

Lawmakers rejected a bill to double the minimum wage for “tipped” workers – which hasn’t budged in 31 years – to $4.25 an hour. Opponents included the operations manager for a Baton Rouge steakhouse favored by legislators, where a 12-oz filet retails for $48, who said the higher wage would be a “back breaker.”

“This is not a fine dining bill. I’m here for people who have a family” and are working at lower-priced establishments, which is most of them, said Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport and sponsor of HB229.   

The Illuminator’s JC Canicosa reports that raising the wage would have been particularly beneficial for women and workers of color. 

If minimum wages increased in Louisiana, 198,000 women – nearly 23% of all women in the workforce – would get a raise, said Davante Lewis, director of public affairs and outreach at the Louisiana Budget Project. About 180,000 workers of color – nearly 27% of all people of color in the state’s workforce – would also see a pay increase. Census numbers for 2020 show nearly one-quarter of children in Louisiana live in poverty. According to federal data, the state’s poverty line for a family of four is $26,500. 

Nursing homes win again
Bob Dean’s decision to evacuate 843 nursing home residents to a former pesticide warehouse in Tangipahoa Parish ahead of Hurricane Ida last year drew fresh attention to Louisiana’s relaxed approach to regulating nursing homes. House Bill 933, sponsored by Rep. Joe Stagni, was designed to address the problem by requiring nursing homes to file “after event” reports with the state explaining how their emergency plans were carried out. But as The Advocate notes in an editorial, that common-sense reform didn’t make it far: 

Caring for vulnerable people while staring down the wrath of nature is important work, and many nursing homes and their employees perform admirably, which the reports would demonstrate. They’d also help the state and the industry plan better, and provide useful information to family members seeking a home for a relative. But the initial bill exempted the reports from the state public records law, so they would remain secret forever. Critics, including the Louisiana Press Association, cried foul. The simple solution would have been to make the reports public, with provisions to protect confidential information like names and conditions of patients. Instead, the Edwards administration elected to drop the requirement altogether, according to reporting by Julie O’Donoghue, of the Louisiana Illuminator.

Lawmakers try again on centralized sales tax 
Just five months ago Louisiana voters rejected a constitutional amendment that sought to centralize the collection of state and local sales taxes under a new commission – a longtime priority for business organizations and conservative activists. Undaunted by the will of the voters, the House of Representatives advanced legislation that would put the measure back on voters’ ballots in November. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports

The legislation gives local agencies four of the eight seats on the State and Local Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Commission, when it is created. That’s what persuaded the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, the Louisiana Municipal Association, and the Louisiana School Boards Association to lift their opposition to the bill. In the Louisiana, the right of local jurisdictions to levy and collect their own taxes is enshrined in the state Constitution. The constitutional clause would need to be changed for a central commission to collect all sales taxes – levied by both state and local agencies – and distribute the proceeds. A majority of voters statewide need to approve the constitutional change. In November, 52% of voters in all 64 parishes rejected the amendment, which in turn spiked creation of the centralized state agency.

Louisiana lost population in 2021 
Louisiana was one of 17 states that lost population last year, according to Pew’s Fiscal 50 project. But while the Pelican state saw its population decrease by 0.58 percentage points in 2021, its population increased slightly over the past decade as a whole — approximately 0.27 percentage points per year between 2010 and 2020. Pew’s Joanna Biernacka-Lievestro & Alexandre Fall explain why population change matters to state finances: 

Population trends are tied to states’ economic fortunes and government finances. More people usually means more workers and consumers adding to economic activity as they take jobs and buy goods and services, which generates more tax revenue. A growing economy, in turn, can attract even more workers and their families. The reverse is usually true for states with shrinking or slow-growing populaces. State officials study population trends, in addition to other measures, to forecast revenue streams and residents’ demands for services for budgeting purposes and long-term fiscal planning. The size of a state’s population, and annual changes, also factor into how much it will receive from some federal grants.

Programming note
The Louisiana Budget Project will be participating in GiveNOLA Day, which will be held on Tuesday, May 3rd. GiveNOLA Day is a 24-hour fundraising event hosted by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Your gift to LBP supports a dedicated staff of researchers, advocates and communicators who help drive real policy change at the state Capitol. With your help we can set a policy agenda in Baton Rouge that leads to a future of shared prosperity and widespread economic growth. Your support helps us fight for families who struggle to make ends meet, and make the case for real reforms. Please visit our donation page to give a one-time donation or set up recurring payments or mail a check to 619 Jefferson Hwy., Ste. 1-D Baton Rouge, LA 70806.

Number of the Day
64% –
Percentage of Louisiana residents who listed cost of service as a barrier to having broadband internet at home. Cost was the most common barrier named by Louisianans without home broadband access. (Source: Public Policy Research Lab at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication)