Gov.-elect Jeff Landry named former House Speaker Taylor Barras as his top financial lieutenant on Wednesday. Patrick Goldsmith, former leader of the House Fiscal Division, was appointed as Barras’ top deputy. The two will head the Division of Administration, which is responsible for crafting the governor’s budget recommendations and overseeing the day-to-day operations of running state government. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn examines the financial headwinds they face in the year ahead. 

Landry, Goldsmith and Barras will inherit a $330 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, forecasters say. Though that’s smaller than other recent surpluses, the forecast is still good news for Landry and a new crop of state legislators who will debate over how to plug the financial hole slated to hit the state’s coffers starting in 2025. That’s the expected result of a .45% sales tax set to roll off the state’s books, plus other tax collections being siphoned off for transportation projects.

Syphilis spikes in newborns 
The number of Louisiana babies born with syphilis has skyrocketed over the last decade. In 2011, only 11 babies were born with the bacterial infection, which is typically contracted through sexual activity. But that number increased to 115 by last year. As the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Emily Woodruff explains, syphilis increases the chance of stillbirth and fetal death and other negative health outcomes for babies that survive: 

Babies who survive can have bone malformations, blindness, deafness and other developmental delays. Nine out of ten cases could be prevented with proper treatment in pregnancy, according to the report. “We should really have zero cases of congenital syphilis in this day and age,” said Patricia Kissinger, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Tulane University. “We have the way to screen, we have the way to test and we have the way to treat. But it doesn’t always happen that way.”

Woodruff explains how policy decisions and other factors led to the increased number of cases: 

Louisiana was a one-time success story for aggressively rooting out the disease. It ranked first among states in terms of the number of babies per capita afflicted with the disease in 2016, but public policy actions helped the state drop to seventh by 2020. … [Dr. Stephanie] Taylor pointed to rising rates of syphilis in men as one possible contributor to the increase. There is only one standalone STI clinic in the state, she said. “Whenever you have the rates going up in the community or in men, they’re going to go up in women and therefore cascade into children,” said Taylor.

The New Orleans DA got carjacked
After New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams and his mother were victims of an armed carjacking last month, some of his right-wing critics took to social media to gloat. But as Williams explains in a guest column for MSNBC, he remains determined to address the root causes of crime, such as generational poverty and a lack of opportunities, instead of simply locking up as many people as possible the way Louisiana has done for generations:  

In modern times, our society’s unwillingness to rein in the unprecedented proliferation of firearms among civilians, combined with a decadeslong failure to address intergenerational poverty, trauma and lack of opportunity, creates a perfect storm for violence to proliferate. … My “mugging,” if you will, has recommitted me to my firm belief that we must keep working to address the causes of crime and to ensure the safety and security of all our residents. Bishop Desmond Tutu said: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” I still believe that time is now, even after staring down the barrels of guns.

Office-to-housing conversions 
The White House announced a new initiative last month to use billions of federal dollars to spur office-to-housing conversion. As Route Fifty’s Molly Bolan explains, the effort aims to address America’s affordable housing crisis and rising real estate vacancies. 

They aim to alleviate the country’s affordable housing crisis through commercial-to-residential conversions by transferring underutilized public land to local governments for housing and building more homes near public transit. Office vacancy nationwide recently hit a 30-year high of 18.2%, presenting an “opportunity to both increase housing supply while revitalizing main streets,” said White House National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard on a press call Thursday. “It’s a win-win.”

Number of the Day 
2080 – Year the United States is expected to begin experiencing population decline. Population growth is crucial for economic growth and maintaining safety-net programs. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau via Axios)