The ongoing debate over the state budget – which must be resolved by 6 p.m. Thursday or else in a special session – still comes down to this: With 70 votes in the House to raise a constitutional cap on appropriations growth, lawmakers can finance hundreds of construction projects around the state and make sure hospitals have the money they need to operate. Without raising the cap, the projects won’t be funded and the money will instead be used to pay down state retirement debt. The Senate Finance Committee, after weeks of stalling, made wholesale changes to the House version of the budget bills, rewriting them in a way that gives House members new incentive to break the cap. The Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue

The next five days will likely show how serious House members are about keeping the spending limit in place. The Senate spending plan now gives local hospitals, universities, sheriffs and parish officials a specific list of projects and programs that won’t get money if the spending cap isn’t lifted. Senate leaders hope those interests will put pressure on House members to lift the cap to get their priorities funded. The Senate plan released on Saturday also indicated the senators wanted certain programs and initiatives funded — including the teacher pay raises — regardless of whether the spending cap gets lifted or not. 

Conspicuously missing from the budget bills is most of the $52 million sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards to shore up early childhood programs that face a loss of federal funding next year. As The Advocate’s James Finn reports, senators seem intent on plowing Louisiana’s unprecedented financial resources into construction projects, at the expense of programs needed by people on the economic margins. 

Under (Senate President Page) Cortez’s plan, the House must raise the spending limit if dozens of lawmakers’ favored home-district projects are to be funded. Those include a $200,000 request for a St. John the Baptist Parish drainage initiative, a $75,000 request for the LaBranche Wetland Watchers Park in St. Charles Parish and a $500,000 request for beautification work in Covington, among others.   

The budget bills (House Bill 1 and House Bill 560) now head to the full Senate. The spending cap measure (Senate Concurrent Resolution 3) cleared  a key hurdle on Monday morning when it passed the House Appropriations Committee on a 21-3 vote. 

The Legislative Fiscal Office has a helpful rundown of everything that’s in the budget bills.  

Louisiana needs the federal government 
Complaining about the pitfalls of “big government” is a favorite practice for many Louisiana politicians. But the Pelican State, with its high rates of poverty and frequent natural disasters, receives far more benefits from the federal government than it pays. An Advocate editorial points out the fallacy of criticizing Louisiana’s heavy reliance on Uncle Sam, while its leaders do little to reverse the endemic poverty that has marred the state for decades. 

All this is depressing, even if Uncle Sam continues to provide the checks that keep us afloat. True economic growth springs not just from industrial facilities but from what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons,” the neighborhoods or villages that constitute a healthy society. The family is the basis of society’s little platoons. And at the ALICE level, they are having a hard time making it. So, before grousing about people who are on the federal dole, remember that Louisiana has long been a ward of Uncle Sam. And, for the foreseeable future, we need him to keep those checks coming.

Reality check: Louisiana is the 10th-most “federally-dependent” state in the nation, according to a report from WalletHub. 

The “Minnesota miracle”
Most states have already wrapped up their legislative session. No state saw a more productive lawmaking period than Minnesota, where a Democratic “trifecta” led to a series of major policy victories that will support low-income families and children. MinnPost’s Peter Callaghan and Walker Orenstein have an overview: 

Democrats codified abortion rights, paid family and medical leave, sick leave, transgender rights protections, drivers licenses for undocumented residents, restoration of voting rights for people when they are released from prison or jail, wider voting access, one-time rebates, a tax credit aimed at low-income parents with kids, and a $1 billion investment in affordable housing including for rental assistance. Also adopted were background checks for private gun transfers and a red-flag warning system to take guns from people deemed by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others. DFL lawmakers banned conversion therapy for LGBTQ people, legalized recreational marijuana, expanded education funding, required a carbon-free electric grid by 2040, adopted a new reading curricula based on phonics, passed a massive $2.58 billion capital construction package and, at the insistence of Republicans, a $300 million emergency infusion of money to nursing homes.

The state House Majority Leader, Jamie Long, explained the success to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne

“You need good ideas. … You need elected politicians who are going to be supporting those ideas, and then you need outside organizing for elections and to support those votes.” All three are key to getting things done. In Minnesota, key players included unions, environmental groups and faith-based organizers in the appropriately named Isaiah organization. In the run-up to the session, the outside groups were brought into the task of crafting an agenda.

But The New York Times’ Mitch Smith reports that Minnesota reflects a national trend that has seen “blue” states become more progressive while “red” states get more conservative. 

The 2022 election brought single-party control of the governor’s office and legislature to 39 states, the most in at least three decades. Many of the 22 Republican-led states pushed new curbs on abortion, sweeping restrictions on gender transitions for youths and laws limiting discussion about sexuality in school classrooms. Democrats, who have full control in 17 states, passed new gun control measures, set limits on carbon emissions, and created safe havens for abortion and medical care for transgender people.

Caving to polluters
Earlier this session, Sen. Cleo Fields proposed a sensible law to require industrial plants to install systems that measure and record pollution and alert nearby residents when leaks occur. But Senate Bill 35 was blocked after the powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee and a group of highly profitable, well-subsidized petrochemical companies argued that the $18,000 price tag for the new systems would force plants to relocate to other states. As’s Bob Marshall explains, this line of thinking is misguided and will continue to make Louisiana a less attractive and healthier place to live – except for polluters. 

That’s the same red herring the petrochemical industry has been throwing at reformers for 80 years. It’s like saying the owners of a gold mine will leave. And this industry’s “gold” is the state’s natural resources required for their production processes, the tax incentives and the ports linking them to markets. If anything, the state has them over a barrel. … But when you combine one of the nation’s highest health risks from pollution to the growing and costly impacts from climate change, you wonder what business would want to locate here anyway.

Number of the Day
$278 – Average monthly student loan payment for recent bachelor’s degree recipients. The federal moratorium on student loan payments, which has been in effect throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, ends on Sept. 1. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics)