The annual battle over the state budget is nearing the home stretch, and a key question is whether the Legislature will agree to lift a limit on state spending – a precondition for new investments in teacher pay, early childhood education and other ongoing needs. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges spoke with Senate President Page Cortez, who favors lifting the cap and is leading negotiations on behalf of the upper chamber. 

“(The cap) was never contemplated at the time to keep taxpayer dollars in the treasury as opposed to spending it on needed projects,” Cortez said. “By raising the expenditure limit, we’re allowed to put that money back into commerce — to fix roads, bridges and buildings that would otherwise cost more in out years via inflation and that will be in more deplorable shape. You can pay me now and fix the buildings, or pay me later to tear them down and build a new one.” He also noted that, under state law, the surplus is already directing tens of millions of dollars to the rainy day fund and to pay down retirement debt. Taxes are scheduled to be cut in two years with the scheduled expiration of a temporary .45-cent sales tax.

The case for a child ombudsman
A bill moving through the Legislature would provide more oversight to Louisiana’s beleaguered Department of Children and Family Services and Office of Juvenile Justice. Senate Bill 137 by Sen. Regina Barrow would create a new ombudsman’s office in state government to review complaints, update lawmakers and make recommendations on how children in state custody should be served. The Advocate’s Andrea Gallo reports: 

Louisiana’s lack of any form of children’s ombudsman makes it an outlier. Research by Rick Wheat, president of Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services, shows that Louisiana is just one of five states without any ombudsman services for children. All five states that lack an ombudsman also rank among the worst in the nation in terms of child well-being.

One of the responsibilities of the new position would be to identify disturbing trends that could prevent future tragedy.

“If we’re getting 42 parents calling because they can’t get XYZ, that’s a problem,” said Susan East Nelson, executive director of Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families. The goal is to eventually have an ombudsman in every region of the state, Nelson said. She said she envisions the role as someone who is a trusted advocate for kids and who can help to steer them and their parents to resources.

Louisiana isn’t attractive to recent graduates 
Recent college graduates are flocking to Southern cities such as Charlotte and Atlanta, drawn by job opportunities and a cost of living that is considerably lower than large coastal hubs like New York and Washington, D.C. But Louisiana isn’t making the list. Population scientist Mark J. VanLandingham, in a guest column for The Advocate, says that’s because Louisiana ranks poorly on quality of life metrics and has become increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ residents and women’s reproductive health.

Things could also get better. A pivot toward strategies for improving teacher pay and other major investments that will bring our schools and universities up to par; strategies for reducing crime while providing effective oversight that eliminates instances of police brutality; nonideological strategies that reduce abortion without limiting safe and effective options available to women and their partners; and strategies for improving our roads and other infrastructure (including hardening our electrical grid so that our economy does not screech to a halt after a major storm) — all serve to encourage those college-educated adults who are looking for a better deal to give us a second look.

Reality check: Recent polling shows Gen Z and Millennials especially prioritize paid family medical leave as the most important policy when considering a state for relocation. Unfortunately, state lawmakers shelved a proposal last week to provide these crucial resources to residents. 

Debt doom looms
With a June 1 deadline looming, President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the impasse over whether to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. As the Washington Post’s coverage explains, a deal may be harder to reach given new Republican demands and McCarthy’s fragile House majority. 

Potentially further complicating the discussions: The House Freedom Caucus is expected to discuss a new position at its meeting tonight. It would urge McCarthy to reject any offer from Biden unless it includes the bill House Republicans passed last month — which would roll back the president’s signature legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act — along with other demands, such as border security funding and decreased funding for the FBI.

While a U.S. debt default would cause economic catastrophe, even the prospects of Congressional leaders not reaching a deal could take a toll on the economy. The New York Times’ Lydia DePillis and Ben Casselman

Even if a deal is struck before the last minute, the long uncertainty could drive up borrowing costs and further destabilize already shaky financial markets. It could lead to a pullback in investment and hiring by businesses when the U.S. economy is already facing elevated risks of a recession, and hamstring the financing of public works projects. More broadly, the standoff could diminish long-term confidence in the stability of the U.S. financial system, with lasting repercussions.

Number of the Day
135% – Percentage change in U.S. rental rates since 1999. Rent growth has outpaced the growth rate of household income (77%) over the last two decades, creating an affordability crisis for millions of people. (Source: Moody’s)