Louisiana legislators will consider whether state taxpayers should underwrite private school tuition, if insurance companies should get more authority to raise prices and drop longtime customers, and whether people with low incomes should face more barriers to accessing safety-net programs during the three-month regular session that begins on Monday. Lawmakers will also need to craft a state budget. Gov. Jeff Landry has used looming budget shortfalls to justify standstill or reduced spending on key state priorities. But the governor and legislators used that reasoning selectively during the costly crime special session. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s team has a preview: 

“There’s a pent-up demand for an aggressive and bold conservative agenda,” said Bob Mann, a historian and LSU communications professor who opposes much of that agenda. … But with new GOP supermajorities in the state House and Senate and the governor’s mansion held by Landry, a hardline culture warrior and blood-red conservative, Republicans see a chance to jolt Louisiana’s policies and government agencies to the political right.

ESAs could lead to significant budget problems 

Conservatives in Louisiana and elsewhere are promoting Education Savings Accounts as the latest version of “school choice.” But depending on how these schemes are structured, they have the potential to blow a massive  hole in the state budget. That’s because universal ESA programs don’t simply move students – and their student funding allocation from the state – from public schools to private schools. In reality,  most of the demand comes from families, many affluent, who already have their children in private schools, which represent entirely new costs to the state. Pro Publica’s Alec MacGillis explains:

In Arizona, the first state to allow any family to receive public funding for private schools or homeschooling, the majority of families applying for the money, about $7,000 per student, were not recently enrolled in public school. In Florida, only 13% of the 123,000 students added to the state’s expanded school-choice program had switched from public school. That ratio will climb much higher in Ohio, now that the vouchers are available for families at all income levels and private schools are explicitly telling parents to apply. The surge in applications this school year has been so dramatic that it’s nearing the total enrollment for all private schools in the entire state.

Arizona’s universal ESA program is projected to cost nearly $900 million this school year, while Ohio’s program is projected to cost an additional $320 million.

Congressional tax fights

President Joe Biden pushed for a return of the expanded Child Tax Credit and tax proposals that target corporations and billionaires during his State of the Union address last Thursday. The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage explains how the debate over the Child Tax Credit and the expiration of Trump-era tax cuts will dominate congressional tax debates over the next year. 

The measure could lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, according to nonpartisan projections. It would be a scaled-down version of an earlier expansion of the credit that Biden won but that expired at the end of 2021.  … A much bigger tax debate awaits next year. Renewing Trump’s $2 trillion tax cut legislation when it expires would add another roughly $3 trillion to the deficit, according to nonpartisan estimates.

Congressional spending bill has funding for Louisiana

The spending bill that Congress approved last week to avoid a partial government shutdown includes tens of millions of dollars for Louisiana. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Mark Ballard dives into what earmarks and other funding Pelican State lawmakers were able to include in the legislation. 

Among the 15 projects for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District that were funded include $3 million wastewater upgrades in Gretna and $850,000 for an elevated walkway connecting to the Mississippi River landing at Westwego. … But the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which merged six separate spending bills, includes all sorts of other money for Louisiana spread throughout the 1,050-page document.

Number of the Day

1,093 – Number of bills that state lawmakers have submitted (so far) for the 2024 regular legislative session. (Source: Louisiana State Legislature)