Lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates are still sifting through the last-minute changes made to the state budget bills in the frantic closing hours of the legislative session. As more details emerge, it’s becoming clear that there are serious issues with the changes that were agreed upon behind closed doors. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin explains how political retribution seems to have killed $130 million earmarked for a container terminal in St. Bernard Parish, which previously had bipartisan support. 

Legislators and port leaders found out about the cut only after the session had ended. … The 11th-hour amendment appears to be aimed at exacting retribution on Rep. Ray Garofalo, a Chalmette Republican whose district includes the proposed terminal. … Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said it’s “unfair” for lawmakers to vote for raising the expenditure limit —a fraught political issue — and then “go spend it in Ray Garofalo’s district.” He argued Garofalo’s vote against raising the limit is tantamount to Garofalo indicating he doesn’t want infrastructure spending.

The Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains how a ‘clerical error,’ rather than political retribution, led to lawmakers accidentally reducing the pay of judges and removing millions of dollars for technology upgrades at the Louisiana Supreme Court. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said the cutbacks were done by mistake and due to a “clerical error” made in budget bills he sponsored. The Senate included a set of amendments to two documents that were unknowingly deleted. “We had every intention of transferring those dollars,” Zeringue said in an interview Friday. “There was an inadvertent change.”

Gambit’s Clancy DuBos tallies his annual “winnas” and “loozas” of the legislative session and found that legislators did a good job tending to the needs of corporations, but a predictably bad job of investing in the state’s working poor. 

Lawmakers killed measures to increase the minimum wage, double the Earned Income Tax Credit, and establish an employer-funded state insurance program to provide paid family and medical leave for qualified employees. Legislators also slashed $100 million from the Department of Health and Hospitals in the final hours of the session — a move Edwards hopes to reverse.

Vouchers drain public revenues
While legislation to establish an Education Savings Account (ESA) program in Louisiana failed to advance during the 2023 legislative session, a resolution to set up the framework for such a program did. Similar to school vouchers, ESA programs transfer public dollars to private institutions. These accounts differ from vouchers in that parents are given much more discretion, as public dollars can cover other costs besides tuition. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Iris Hinh and Whitney Tucker explain how the cost of these programs can balloon to threaten public revenues. 

A recent study of school voucher programs in seven states shows how state voucher spending from 2008 to 2019 increased by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, while K-12 spending for public education declined despite public school enrollment increases. Arizona became the first state to implement a universal voucher program in 2022, and as of mid-March 2023, the ESA program is expected to cost the state at least $345 million more than initial projections for the first year. New Hampshire’s voucher program was estimated to cost $130,000 in 2021 and it now costs $14.7 million. And a few private schools in Iowa are already raising tuition only a few months after the new voucher program passed in January of this year.

Preempting progress on climate change
Louisiana is among several states with preemption laws that block local authorities from raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid leave or other workplace protections. While most of the attention around preemption laws has centered on labor issues, the Washington Post’s Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano explain how climate policies could be the next issue at the center of the preemption debate. 

Conservative legislatures in four states — Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota — recently passed laws to prohibit cities from banning natural gas hookups in new buildings. In Texas, a new law will effectively block cities from adopting climate policies in their charters. And in Idaho, a measure will bar local governments from setting stricter energy efficiency codes. GOP lawmakers and their allies – who have traditionally championed local governance – say they’re preventing aggressive climate mandates from harming consumers and businesses. 

Ending tenure could hurt state economies
Earlier this spring, state Sen. Stewart Cathey backed away from his previous efforts to end university tenure over concerns that it would discourage talented professors from coming to Louisiana. But leaders of any future efforts to end tenure should also consider the harm such as policy could have on Louisiana’s economy. Stateline’s Stephen Elliott provides cautionary tales from Texas. 

Attacks on tenure are a threat to state economies. That argument, used by (University of Texas at Austin Professor Daniel) Brinks in Texas and others elsewhere, has figured prominently in debates over tenure in several states. “If you no longer can attract the top researchers, you no longer have people developing cutting-edge technologies, cutting-edge medical innovations,” Brinks told Stateline, echoing testimony he delivered to Texas legislators.

Number of the Day
32.8% – Percentage of Louisiana’s revenue that is generated through general sales taxes, compared to a national average of 29.6%. General sales taxes make up the largest share of the state’s tax dollars. (Source: Pew Trusts)