Spending cap collision 
Louisiana lawmakers have $1.6 billion in surplus and “excess” revenue available to spend over the next 18 months. But a spending limit in the state’s constitution limits how much of that can be appropriated without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports that the state is just $460 million below the current-year cap and has just $500 million of room in the 2023-24 budget. Failure to lift the cap means the state would be leaving hundreds of millions of dollars unspent that could otherwise flow to higher education, infrastructure and other priorities. 

“A two-thirds vote is always questionable down here,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central, said after a budget hearing Wednesday.  The legislature is dominated by Republicans, who generally oppose large increases in government spending. Reaching a two-thirds majority in both chambers could be difficult, but declining to bust the cap would also have consequences. … [Commissioner of Administration Jay] Dardenne specifically mentioned Louisiana could lose out on federal transportation and infrastructure dollars – which are in abundance currently – if the state doesn’t put up all of the money it can now to draw down federal assistance. 

Toxic burnt pit permit angers residents
Residents of a small, mostly Black community outside of Colfax, known as The Rock, say they have encountered serious health issues because of a toxic burn pit located less than two miles away from their homes. Many of their illnesses are consistent with the conditions of military veterans who were exposed to these types of pits. But the possible renewal of the Clean Harbors hazardous waste disposal site has left residents angry and convinced that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has prioritized polluters over the communities they’re supposed to protect. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Frances Madeson reports: 

Pathologist Dr. Stephen Norman of Alexandria has treated several residents who live near Clean Harbors and attributes many of their pulmonary disorders to the facility. … “Sadly, we’ve come to expect this kind of thing in Louisiana, which is at the bottom of every good list and is just not taking care of its citizens – especially the Black citizens. It’s criminal the way the state is giving the company license to do this.” … [LSU-Shreveport chemistry professor Brian] Salvatore is calling for even more direct interaction with state regulators and hopes the coalition will soon demand LDEQ hold a press conference where very specific questions can be asked and answered on the spot.  

Work requirements won’t help the hungry
Congressional leaders are gearing up to craft the 2023 Farm Bill, a multi-year law that includes funding and rules for agriculture and food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While SNAP has proven to be one of the most effective tools at fighting poverty, the program is in the crosshairs of conservative lawmakers who want to strip food benefits from anyone who isn’t working or can prove they are exempt from a work requirement. Claudia Sahm, writing in a guest column for the Washington Post, explains why work requirements are counterproductive.

Moreover, the existing work requirements in SNAP have done little to encourage work and, instead, increase food insecurity due to lost benefits. University of Maryland Professor Mary Zaki and her co-authors estimate, based on Virginia data, that the work requirement halved the participation rate for adults subject to it. The homeless and those without income before receiving SNAP accounted for much of that reduction. They also found that the work requirement did not increase the likelihood of working. Other studies that have found an increase in employment generally estimate it to be small. Plus, collecting information on work status for more individuals would add to the administrative program costs.

Congress faces double-barreled economic threat
In the past 15 years Congress has had to deal with a collapse of the banking system in 2008 and a 2011 debt-ceiling crisis. But now federal lawmakers are encountering both these crises simultaneously. As The New York Times’ Carl Hulse reports, Republicans believe the troubles in the banking system should strengthen their hand in the debt-ceiling negotiations, and that persistent (but falling) inflation is caused by federal spending. Democrats and the Federal Reserve take a different tack: 

Democrats say House Republicans are doing the exact opposite of what is required at a critical moment, even as the Fed offers assurances about the soundness of the banking system. They say the fallout from any banking instability should persuade Republicans that the last thing the economy needs is the specter of a default from a failure to raise the debt limit, which is projected to be reached as early as July without action by Congress.

Earlier this month, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics told lawmakers that if the debt ceiling isn’t raised the U.S. economy could quickly shed a million jobs and fall into recession. 

Number of the Day
49% – Percentage of American renter households that were considered “cost burdened” in 2021. The housing cost ratio is the percentage of household income that is spent on rent and utilities. A household is considered cost burned when its cost ratio is more than 30%. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)