Gov. Jeff Landry issued an executive order on Thursday directing state agencies to implement austerity measures in preparation for a decline in state revenue. While the latest projections have Louisiana facing a $65 million shortfall in the upcoming 2024-25 fiscal year, the real problem comes the following year when automatic tax cuts take effect and the shortfall swells to $559 million. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports: 

(Economist Stephen Barnes said) “My impression is that it is [routine]. This is partly a way to communicate to the public that he wants his government to keep within its means – in advance of the bigger question of the .45-cent sales tax.” Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning group, grew frustrated by the budget gimmicks employed by Jindal to balance the budget. But he didn’t express any concerns that Landry is now projecting a budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. “I don’t think anybody is cooking the books,” Moller said. “The estimates change from month to month. These are all guesses.”

Reality check: Deficits are not inevitable, and they do not have to lead to budget cuts. Lawmakers have the option of renewing the expiring .45-cent sales tax, or replacing that revenue with other revenue sources. 

Rise of the Freedom Caucuses
The politics of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus – a group of intransigent, ultra-conservative lawmakers – have matriculated down to state governments across the country. The state-level groups have proposed a new rule in Missouri that would allow senators to settle disagreements with a duel, and attempted to oust an assembly speaker in Wisconsin because he would not support baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The Louisiana Freedom Caucus’ political action committee (PAC) recently  sent election-day texts falsely accusing a moderate Republican of making sexual advances toward teenagers. Governing’s Alan Greenblatt explains how Freedom Caucuses aren’t just for Congress anymore: 

In Congress, the House Freedom Caucus ousted GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy last October. Things haven’t reached quite that point at the state level, but many chamber leaders, including conservative Republicans, are having to deal with their own confrontational freedom caucuses. In many states now, there is open factionalism between the Republicans running the chambers and the ultra-conservatives who complain the legislative agenda doesn’t go far right enough on issues ranging from transportation to tax cuts and transgender health care.

Many state freedom caucuses, including Louisiana, are part of a national network that provides marching orders on culture war issues and other policies. 

Affiliation with the national network not only gives state-level caucuses a brand and a playbook, but comes with staff support as well. That’s always a plus for legislators, most of whom have little to no staff of their own.

Why thousands of Black doctors vanished
America needs more Black doctors. While Black people make up 13.6% of the population, only 5.7% of physicians identify as Black. This disparity is due to socio-economic barriers and a racist, but landmark report from 1910 that had a chilling effect on the number of Black physicians. Dr. Uché Blackstock, an emergency physician and founder and chief executive of Advancing Health Equity, writing a guest essay for the Washington Post, explains the consequences: 

The loss of so many Black physicians to the field of medicine and to our communities has been undeniably profound. We know — as I witnessed in my mother’s clinic — that racial concordance in patient-physician interactions influences everything from how patients feel when they leave their appointment to how likely they are to take their medications. …. We know that had those Black medical schools remained open, the health of our communities might be in a different place, most likely better than it is today.

Uché explains how to address these long-standing problem:

First, White physicians and health-care professionals must acknowledge that systemic racism exists, and that racism is not Black people’s struggle to fight alone. Your Black colleagues are exhausted. Your Black patients are dying. We need you to do your own due diligence to understand how racism operates and affects health outcomes. Second, our health-care institutions must strive to provide structurally competent and culturally centered care to Black communities — care that takes into consideration the social, economic and political context in which people live.

A soft landing could still be hard for some
Falling inflation and a strong labor market have many economists optimistic about a soft landing for the U.S. economy. But lower-income families could be squeezed even if a recession is avoided. The New York Times’ Talmon Joseph Smith explains how most of the financial cushion that low-income families had built up over the last few years is gone: 

What’s left of those stockpiles is concentrated among wealthier households. Most major U.S. banks have reported that checking balances are above prepandemic levels across all income groups. Yet the cost of living is higher than it was in 2019 throughout the country. And depleted savings among the bottom third of earners could continue to ebb while rent and everyday prices still rise, albeit more slowly. 

Number of the Day
10% – Percentage share of American workers that were members of a union in 2023, an all-time low.  The union membership rate decreased despite the total number of union members increasing. The decreased share was attributed to a supercharged labor market that saw non-union jobs grow faster than union ones. (Source: U.S. Labor Department via the Washington Post)