Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget recommendations to the Legislature include pay raises for public school teachers and college faculty, new caseworkers to work with abused or neglected children and hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for infrastructure projects. The 2023-24 executive budget, unveiled Friday, is the last of Edwards’ two terms and comes at a time when the state’s finances are in strong shape heading into a tax-focused lawmaking session. The Advocate’s James Finn reports that the budget is heading for rocky times in the near future:

“These surpluses signal a growth in our economy,” Edwards said. “This is critically important, because we all know that in 2026 … there will be more than an $800 million reduction in the state general fund.” The combined elimination of a temporary sales tax slated for 2025 and a dip in taxes on some vehicles threatens that blow to the state’s coffers, forecasters have said. That could set up clashes among policymakers over how to spend the state’s general fund dollars on recurring expenses — things like the teacher raises — during the legislative session set to kick off in April. 

LBP’s statement notes that Edwards asked for $111 million to help the Department of Health manage the end of pandemic-era coverage protections for people enrolled in Medicaid, but that there are important areas where the spending plan falls short. 

A $52 million investment in early care and education won’t cover a $200 million shortfall left by the expiration of federal funding. The state’s troubled juvenile justice system is facing a $2.1 million cut in next year’s budget. And Louisiana’s teachers and college faculty will continue to be paid below their Southern and national peers despite the increases called for in this budget. 

Mitch Landrieu talks infrastructure
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the biggest federal investment in public works since the Great Depression. But the huge investments will require coordination between federal, state and local agencies in order to spend the trillions of dollars earmarked for roads, ports, water systems and other infrastructure. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard sat down with former New Orleans Mayor and current White House infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu to hear how he and other officials are executing the massive push in a way that eliminates headaches of previous efforts. 

As the 62-year-old former Louisiana lieutenant governor and New Orleans mayor, Landrieu has first-hand experience with aspirational federal programs that fell apart because various agencies had to operate under specific — and often conflicting — standards, practices and laws.  … Landrieu emphasizes the need to move more quickly with Infrastructure Act funding. … He doesn’t choose what projects the Infrastructure Act funds — that’s up to individual agencies. Landrieu’s job is to coordinate federal, state and local government. Landrieu has on speed dial the personal cell phone numbers of every governor and many mayors.

Cuts for the poor instead of the old
Congressional Republicans are having trouble making the math work as they push for cuts to the federal budget as a condition for agreeing to let the country pay its bills. With cuts to Medicare and Social Security off the table, due to their political popularity, the Washington Post’s Philip Bump reports that  potential cuts are being targeted at programs for the poor.

Poor Americans make fewer campaign contributions and vote less frequently than wealthier ones. They also vote more heavily Democratic. So the calculus here, however couched in the verbiage of economic propriety, is uncomplicated. Cut funding for the poor and you irritate less of your base. Put into other terms, like moral ones, this strategy might nonetheless prove politically problematic.

Momentum for four-day workweek
A majority of supervisors and employees in the United Kingdom who participated in a trial of a four-day workweek enjoyed it so much that they’re deciding to keep the policy. The results of the world’s largest study surrounding the shortened workweek, which required companies to ensure their employees still received 100 percent of their pay, showed numerous benefits for both parties, including happier lives for employees and less resignations and stable or increasing revenues for employers. The Washington Post’s Annabelle Timsit reports. 

At the end of the experiment, employees reported a variety of benefits related to their sleep, stress levels, personal lives and mental health, according to results published Tuesday. Companies’ revenue “stayed broadly the same” during the six-month trial, but rose 35 percent on average when compared with a similar period from previous years. Resignations decreased. … The results are likely to put the spotlight back on shorter workweeks as a possible solution to the high levels of employee burnout and the “Great Resignation” phenomenon exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, amid a global movement calling for businesses to ditch the in-office, 9-to-5, five-day workweek and adopt more flexible working practices instead.

Number of the Day
60% – Percentage of Americans that are not aware that they could lose their health insurance coverage with the end of pandemic protections. (Source: Robert Woods Johnson Foundation via Fierce Healthcare)