High-quality early care and education programs can pay lifelong dividends by putting young children on a path to a brighter future. But the programs that help develop young brains must be funded in the present. Louisiana’s early care and education system is currently being supported by $200 million in temporary federal funding that needs to be replaced next year with state funding. More than 16,000 children – more than the entire population of Opelousas or Thibodaux – will lose access to these essential programs if lawmakers do not replace these dollars. The Public Affairs Research Council’s Steven Procopio and Melinda Deslatte, in a guest column for The Advocate, urge lawmakers to prioritize money for the state’s youngest learners: 

[Gov. John Bel] Edwards proposes to steer $26 million of available short-term state cash to the early childhood fund. But PAR believes that lawmakers, who are sitting on at least $880 million in the flexible short-term dollars, should boost that fund payment to $90 million or more, to stockpile money for when Louisiana’s budget boom ends. Lawmakers placed $40 million in the fund in 2022, but that is expected to run dry within two years. The state can’t bear the entire cost of providing high-quality early childhood education to children in need. Sending dollars to the fund provides an incentive for locals to share the expense of this priority. Boosting the balance now would ensure communities have match dollars later when state budget gaps arrive. Investing in the future of Louisiana’s children should be a priority.

Business group wants looser child labor laws
Newly minted Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders made headlines recently when she signed a bill that rolled back child labor laws to allow kids as young as 14 to work without a permit. At least 10 states have debated similar measures, even as child labor law violations have spiked 37% over the past year. The head of the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business wants Louisiana to follow suit. The Baton Rouge Business Report’s David Jacobs reports: 

Workforce development issues NFIB wants to address include reducing “red tape” to make it easier to hire teens, pointing to recent legislation in Arkansas, which (Dawn Starns) McVea says will help develop soft skills sooner. The group also backs a proposal to allow employers to report to the Louisiana Workforce Commission job applicants who don’t show up for interviews while  getting unemployment benefits.  McVea also plans to defend previous rate reductions and triggers that could lead to further cuts, and as usual will join with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in opposing any effort to set a state minimum wage above the federal wage floor. 

Landmark prison reforms are working
Some legislators, looking to take a “tough on crime” stance in an election year, are proposing to repeal or water down the 2017 bipartisan criminal justice reforms that reduced Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate. But these efforts, which will start next week as lawmakers gavel in for the spring legislative session, are not based in reality. As The Advocate explains in an editorial, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which reduced the number of non-violent offenders in Louisiana jails, is working. 

We supported the 2017 reforms then and continue to back them. The bipartisan initiative’s track record on crime is a welcome one. And it’s important that lawmakers continue to reinvest savings from the reforms into the rehabilitation and re-entry programs that can help former inmates become law-abiding and economically contributing members of society. Well over 9 out of 10 people who are currently incarcerated will get out one day. Money spent on pushing them toward an education and a better path in life is well-spent, and one of the best results of the 2017 reforms.

Economy flashes mixed signals as states craft budgets
A strong post-pandemic recovery, combined with federal relief dollars, has produced better-than-expected tax collections and about $1.6 billion in surplus and “excess” revenue for state lawmakers to spend over the next 18 months. While Louisiana’s financial picture is rosier than it’s been in a generation, the budget largesse isn’t expected to last as tax revenue declines nationally and the prospects of an economic slowdown increase. Route Fifty’s Liz Farmer explains how states should prepare for the uncertain economic future. 

The median decline was 2.8% while the median drop in personal income tax revenues was 6.9%. Corporate income taxes rose while sales tax revenue inched slightly downward. … Given the latest revenue figures, [Urban Institute’s Lucy] Dadayan sees storm clouds gathering and warns that the years of surpluses may soon come to an end. “States have healthy rainy day balances and will be able to weather the crisis,” she said. “But I always think no matter how big your rainy day fund is, you shouldn’t be enacting changes that  dramatically reduce revenues without thinking about how you’re going to make that up elsewhere in the budget.”

Number of the Day
27% – Percentage of Louisiana workers who are paid less than $15 per hour. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)