By Robert Mann
You would think fixing Louisiana government’s fiscal affairs was like achieving Middle East peace or beating Alabama at football. For almost 10 years, state government has staggered from one fiscal crisis to another. Lawmakers are like blindfolded children lost in a maze. All they have to do is rip off their blindfolds and follow directions to the exit, but they won’t.
Sensible state fiscal policy that supports vital services like health care, education and transportation is no impenetrable mystery. It would only take a little foresight and fortitude to enact policies the public and most economists and policy experts support.
It also would require legislators to risk offending their wealthy constituents. That’s far worse, apparently, than watching the state’s fiscal affairs go the way of Oklahoma or Kansas.
I suspect lawmakers know what they must do, as road-tested recommendations abound. I am impressed, in particular, by two recent reports that contain sound suggestions. (And don’t get me started on the practical 2016 report by the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, which lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards have largely ignored.)
The first report I recommend is from the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). In its April 2016 report, “A Fiscal Policy Agenda for Stronger State Economies,” the center examined a host of academic literature on many aspects of state fiscal policies.
First, the center explained how targeted “public investments in education, transportation, and fire protection — services that business rely on heavily — can create jobs in the short run and improve economic growth and job quality in the long run.”
One example state leaders should consider, the CBPP says, is universal preschool: “High-quality preschool improves not only children’s academic performance but also the quality of a state’s workforce and jobs over time.”
The CBPP also offers sound advice about supporting existing entrepreneurs and startups as opposed to wasting revenue on economic development programs to lure corporations from other locales.
Second, the CBPP suggests revising state policies to “help struggling families share in prosperity.” Under Edwards, Louisiana has taken one important step in this direction by expanding Medicaid. The report also suggests expanding the state-level Earned Income Tax Credit and strengthening programs that help and protect the neediest and most-vulnerable children (much of which the federal government funds).
Lawmakers recently adopted one key CBPP recommendation by reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice policies.
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