The 2023 Louisiana Legislature had record amounts of revenue available to address Louisiana’s many needs. Yet lawmakers finished their work Thursday without giving teachers a permanent pay raise, stripping child-care assistance from thousands of low-income families and cutting $100 million from the state Department of Health without any public debate. The Advocate’s James Finn reports:
Negotiations stretched all day, and by the time the budget bills were returned to the chambers, well under an hour remained until the 6 p.m. deadline, and frustrations burst into the open. House conservatives, seeking to run out the clock of the session in protest of the way the budget was handled, according to several lawmakers, were repeatedly ignored as they asked to be recognized. Meanwhile, Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, barreled ahead to quickly vote on the bills without debate.
Instead of a permanent pay raise, public school teachers got a $2,000 stipend, while school support workers got an extra $1,000. Early childhood education received $44 million in new state funding – enough to backfill about 20% of the $200 million in federal funding that’s expiring. As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports, lawmakers pumped $690 million into state pension plans and were generous to their districts, which received millions of dollars in pork-barrel projects.
Their budget plan includes tens of millions of dollars in pet projects — allocations that lawmakers request in secret and receive no public vetting. Some of this money is going to nonprofit organizations with which legislators sometimes have a personal connection. Legislators have also directed millions of dollars to public entities in their home parishes and communities. These include funding for sheriffs, school boards and other local elected officials who might be able to help them with their reelection campaigns later this year.
The eleventh-hour budget chaos capped a session where legislators missed critical opportunities to ensure that more Louisianans benefited from the state’s growing economy and the revenues it produced. Bills to establish a minimum wage and expand tax credits for low-income families with young children all failed, and lawmakers refused to pass legislation to guarantee paid family and medical leave for most workers, including those with low incomes. Click here to read LBP’s full statement on the end of the 2023 session.
Supreme Court rules for fair districts
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday overturns an Alabama congressional map because it does not accurately reflect the state’s Black population. In the 5-4 vote, justices sided with Black voters in the congressional redistricting case that had huge implications for other states, including Louisiana, whose own case had been on hold until after the Alabama ruling. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn reminds us how we got here.
Louisiana’s Republican Legislature passed a new map in February 2022 that kept five of the state’s six congressional districts with white majorities, then overrode Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of the map, which prompted a lawsuit from civil rights groups. U.S. Middle District Judge Shelly Dick later ruled that the map violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered lawmakers to draw new boundaries that increased Black voting power. After lawmakers failed to pass a new map during a June 2022 Special Session, Dick said she would draw one herself and had been scheduled to identify new boundaries during a hearing before the Supreme Court put Louisiana’s case on hold.
The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports on the new Louisiana congressional maps that could result from the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Edwards will veto anti-LGBTQ+ bills
Gov. John Bel Edwards says he plans to veto a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that passed the Legislature with broad majority support and have drawn (mostly negative) national attention. The bills include a measure that outlaws gender-affirming care for minors, and the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, reflecting a national agenda pushed by conservatives. The Advocate’s very busy James Finn reports:
Addressing the bills, Edwards drew a parallel between people who opposed the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and people who are proposing the anti-LGBTQ+ measures today. “The judgement of history, I believe, will be very clear,” he said. “It will be as clear as the judgement of history has been on those who didn’t want civil rights in the ’50s, for example.”
While the Legislature could convene for a veto session to override the governor, the Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson reports there may be little appetite among lawmakers.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, the second-highest ranking legislator in the House, thought a veto session is unlikely. “Members are exhausted from this session, and they want to be back in their districts for campaigning, and they know there is a new governor next year that is more likely to sign,” Magee said in a statement to the Illuminator.
Capturing methane is a win for Louisiana
Oil and gas companies in Louisiana wasted more than $82 million worth of gas in 2019 – enough to meet more than two-thirds of residential natural gas demand in the state for a year. The waste occurs when gas is either flared, vented or leaked from oil and gas infrastructure and translated into nearly $2.5 million in lost tax and royalty revenue. Louisiana leaders can look to other states to see that curbing methane waste from oil and gas operations is a fiscally responsible, common-sense plan everyone should agree on. Ned Randolph, policy advisor with the Louisiana Budget Project, and Autumn Hanna, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, in a guest column for The Advocate, explain:
Under Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Department of Natural Resources has embarked on proposed rulemaking to address wasteful routine venting and flaring. This proposal would generate more revenue for state programs while curtailing the release of a powerful greenhouse gas. Given that New Mexico is the second-largest oil producer in the country, we can be confident strong rules to cut waste will not negatively affect industry. What’s more, the methane mitigation industry is creating jobs.
Number of the Day
72.3% –Percentage of the Louisiana Department of Health’s proposed budget that is made up of federal funding – the vast majority of which comes in as a match for state Medicaid dollars. That means the true cost of the $100 million cut to LDH could multiply with the loss of federal funds. (Source: House Fiscal Division)