Friday, April 13, 2018

Would a Louisiana constitutional convention change much?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 2:03 PM


Talk of holding a constitutional convention to address Louisiana’s structural deficit has gained momentum. The idea has merit on several fronts, but it’s also an admission that our state legislators are either unwilling or unable to do their jobs. And, ultimately, there’s a danger that not much would change.

That’s not to say it’s a bad idea or not worth the risk. The sad political reality is that most Louisiana lawmakers know perfectly well what needs to be done to stabilize our state’s revenue stream, change our budgeting process, and make state government more efficient. Unfortunately, most of them lack the political will to do it.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'We are coming for you': Women's groups converge on the Capitol for lobby day

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 8:55 PM

State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.
  • State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.

At the Louisiana State Capitol Building, there are imposing elevators with brass-coated doors, gold-painted Ionic columns, marble walls, lots of men clad in navy sportcoats and blue and gray suits, lobbyists with shiny "LOBBYIST" badges, security guards and school groups in matching T-shirts. And today, there were feminists.

A group of more than 100 women, many of them affiliated with women's advocacy groups including Lift Louisiana, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Feminist Majority Foundation, Women With a Vision, New Orleans Abortion Fund and Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, convened at the nearby Capitol Park Welcome Center on the morning of April 11 for "Justice for Louisiana Women." The event was part lobby day, part activist workshop and part response to a legislative session that has included a great number of bills that would be consequential for Louisiana women.

From bills that affect health care for women who are incarcerated to bills preventing people convicted of stalking from owning a firearm to bills preventing Medicaid service providers (such as Planned Parenthood) from simultaneously holding an abortion license, legislation currently being considered could endanger women's health, economic security and, some argue, even their lives. At today's lobby day, organizers seemed prepared to train a new generation of activists in the grinding, sometimes multi-year process of influencing and educating legislators, often with the threat of evicting them from their seats.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On Equal Pay Day, busting a few wage gap myths with pay equity advocate Julie Schwam Harris

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 7:57 AM


On Equal Pay Day, women's advocates call attention to the gender pay gap — the phenomenon in which, year after year, women are found to be making less money than men.

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, women are still making an average of 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, with wider gaps for black women (63 cents) and Latina women (54 cents). This is true even across similar occupations — for example, women doctors make about $20,000 less than their male counterparts — and education levels. One recent Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report found that women need an extra degree (such as a bachelor's degree to match a man's associate degree) to attain comparable earnings.

This year's Equal Pay Day symbolizes the date a woman has to work through to match what men made in 2017.

To mark the occasion, Gambit caught up with self-described "volunteer activist" Julie Schwam Harris, a retired city administrator who works with organizations such as Independent Women's Organization to lobby lawmakers on pay equity and related issues in Louisiana, which is home to one of the nation's largest pay gaps. (In the current session, Harris has concentrated on Senate Bills 117 and 149, which would ensure pay equity for state contractors and protect people who talk about their pay with co-workers from retaliation.) We asked her to address a few common equal pay myths.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Editorial: Time to revisit New Orleans' short-term rental laws

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 6:13 PM

A 2016 rally in the Bywater against short-term rentals. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A 2016 rally in the Bywater against short-term rentals.

Are short-term rentals (STRs) like Airbnb making it harder for New Orleanians to live in the city where they work? The STR industry says it’s just the opposite. By renting out a spare bedroom or half a double, the argument goes, more rather than fewer locals can live affordably here. That argument suffered a serious blow earlier this month when Airbnb’s updated website easily showed who are the city’s biggest Airbnb landlords.

The largest local Airbnb operator — with 154 rental units scattered all over town — is a Spokane, Washington-based company called Stay Alfred, which has thousands of units in various cities across the country. Another out-of-town company, Sonder, controls 124 units in New Orleans. These aren’t mom-and-pop landlords; they’re hoteliers posing as small-time operators.
Breonne DeDecker of the housing rights organization Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative told WVUE-TV that the top 10 Airbnb landlords in the city control a total of 568 units — apartments and condos that otherwise could be occupied by full-time New Orleanians. In the Faubourg Marigny, a neighborhood once filled with service industry personnel and others who worked nearby in the French Quarter, one in 10 units now is a short-term rental, according to a story published last year by The Huffington Post and The Lens.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Editorial: Baton Rouge gridlock as a political cudgel? Enough. Enough.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 1:17 PM

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a Facebook post this week that the Louisiana Department of Health is “cannibalizing” other agencies. If that’s true, Henry should be able to identify specific cuts to state health services. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a Facebook post this week that the Louisiana Department of Health is “cannibalizing” other agencies. If that’s true, Henry should be able to identify specific cuts to state health services.

This week, addressing state legislators’ recent failure to renew or replace an expiring “temporary” sales tax, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said, “I hope the Legislature doesn’t morph into the Professional Can-Kickers Association.”

Too late.

Year after year, state lawmakers have dealt with Louisiana’s fiscal problems by applying the budgetary equivalent of duct tape and baling wire, using one-time funds and other gimmicks to pay for recurring expenses — all to avoid addressing systemic, significant, recurring shortfalls in the state’s annual budget. Moody’s Investors Service years ago summed up our predicament by noting that then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal policies had given Louisiana a “structural deficit.” That deficit remains today because Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives are hell-bent on keeping Jindal’s disastrous policies in place — because they don’t want to give Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, a “win.”

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Friday, March 9, 2018

In the Louisiana legislature, it's always Groundhog Day

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 1:21 PM


Since the collapse of the recent special session, many have called any attempt to get state lawmakers to fix Louisiana’s fiscal problems “Groundhog Day.” It’s a reference to the movie in which a misanthropic character played by Bill Murray keeps waking up in Punxsutawney on Feb. 2 until he finally gets his act together.

With lawmakers going back into session a mere week after the special session’s acrimonious implosion, it appears the latest Bayou State Groundhog Day is March 12. This time, however, legislators will be constitutionally barred from considering revenue-raising bills, at least until they convene for yet another Groundhog Day — um, I mean special session — in late May or early June.

How many Groundhog Days can Louisiana voters stand?

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Report: A single parent with two kids needs $64,170 to live in Orleans Parish

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 12:46 PM


According to an updated calculator released today by think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a single parent with two kids needs $64,170 annually to achieve a "modest but adequate" standard of living in Orleans Parish.

EPI's "Family Budget Calculator" has been newly expanded to include cost-of-living information for U.S. counties, parishes and metropolitan statistical areas. It provides estimates on such expenses as housing, child care, transportation, taxes and other essentials for families with one or two parents and up to four children.

For a family with one parent and two children in Orleans Parish, the organization estimates housing costs at $12,016 annually (about $1,000 per month). Child care costs are estimated at $10,093 and transportation is almost as expensive, at $9,808. The least expensive major expenditure is food, which EPI calculates will cost that same family $7,506 per year (about $625 per month). Expenses for health care, taxes and "other necessities" add up to $64,170.

Median household income in New Orleans is $37,488, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Louisiana legislature a study in chaos

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 1:47 PM

  • zrfphoto

Anyone who wants to study the application of Chaos Theory to politics should examine the Louisiana Legislature, but it may help to do so with lots of mind-numbing substances. It won’t explain anything, but it will dull the pain.

The first thing to remember, however, is that it’s the Legislature’s job to provide for the short- and long-term fiscal stability of state government. The governor can recommend courses of action, but it’s lawmakers’ job to get it done. When the job doesn’t get done, the fault lies with them alone.
The Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL), a nonpartisan government watchdog group, reminded lawmakers of this in a March 1 letter. Here’s an excerpt:

“The first and foremost [thing to do] right now is to bring stability and sustainability to the budget. That is perhaps the most basic responsibility of the Legislature. It is not asking you to do an unusual thing. It is asking you to do what should be the most basic and normal thing.”

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Editorial: Why is Louisiana at the bottom of 'Best States' lists? This week's special session in Baton Rouge is an example

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 3:06 PM

State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, was one of the GOP members who voted against a key revenue-raising measure to expand the state sales tax. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, was one of the GOP members who voted against a key revenue-raising measure to expand the state sales tax.

Louisiana is accustomed to finishing at or near the bottom of “Best States” lists, but to come in dead last — for the second year in a row — in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings clearly rankled Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards’ communications director, Shauna Sanford, characterized the data gathered as “grossly outdated information that in no way accurately reflects the current gains being made throughout our state, especially in the areas of health care and education.”

In a key metric that no one in the Bayou State could logically contest, Louisiana came in 48th in “fiscal stability” (just above New Jersey and Illinois). If the editors of U.S. News were watching the farrago in the Louisiana Legislature’s 17-day special session this week, we probably would have been ranked even lower.
This special session is the Legislature’s fifth since 2016. Like the others, it has been marked by sniping, finger-pointing, talking points and impasses. More than that, it revealed that GOP lawmakers who talk about cutting the budget are merely grandstanding. Last week, an attempt to renew the “temporary” one-cent sales tax that went on the books two years ago was championed by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, only to be shot down by Democrats and some Republicans. The result was a bizarre spectacle in which some Republicans castigated Democrats, including Edwards, for being unwilling to raise or renew taxes.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Measuring Louisiana's 'fiscal cliff'

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 3:29 PM


Exactly how high is Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff” anyway? It depends on whom you ask. Some say it’s nearly $1.3 billion, while others say it’s more like $994 million, and still others say it’s closer to $692 million — or less.

Interestingly, they’re all looking at the same cliff. It’s all a matter of perspective, but it’s important to start with some facts and figures on which everyone agrees.

When Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature took office in January 2016, Louisiana faced a $1 billion mid-year budget deficit and a nearly $2 billion “structural” deficit (a term applied to Louisiana’s finances by Moody’s Investors Service) for the ensuing fiscal year — courtesy of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s irresponsible fiscal policies.

In fairness, Jindal had help from the preceding Legislature, which included many current lawmakers. They bought into his fiscal fantasies knowing it was all bunk, so they don’t get a pass on the current mess.

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