Ready, set, govern!
There is no time to waste for Democratic Governor-elect John Bel Edwards. Even after severe cuts to health care and higher education, Louisiana still has a structural budget deficit.
And fixing this structural deficit won’t be solved by governing in a spirit of bipartisanship. It will be solved by undoing the right-wing experiment that believes granting huge tax giveaways to recruit big businessses to Louisiana will yield huge economic growth.
We can undo this experiment by raising revenues. According to the Louisiana Budget Project, legislators voted to raise $741 million in new revenues this past legislative session.
Even though it appears the state Legislature is moving in the right direction, much of the $741 million in funding is short-term and will expire in one to three years.
This progress in solving Louisiana’s budget deficit could be stymied by a Republican Legislature unwilling to raise taxes and Edwards’ campaign promises. According to The Advocate, Edwards agreed with U.S. Sen. David Vitter not to raise taxes as a form of boosting revenue.
Edwards promised to roll back some of the tax giveaways to big businesses but didn’t promise to raise new taxes.
Louisiana unfairly taxes low-income people at a higher rate than wealthy earners. According to the Louisiana Budget Project, workers in the lowest 40 percent of income earners pay taxes at more than twice the rate of those in the top 1 percent.
Louisiana could use these new revenues to restore funding for higher education, health care, transportation and connecting many unskilled workers to jobs.
Our state has a $12 billion backlog in transportation projects. The main funding source of the transportation budget is the gas tax, which sits at 20 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1990.
Vehicles have become more fuel-efficient, causing car owners to buy less gas than before and further decreasing the power of the gas tax. Current owners of hybrid cars certainly don’t use as much gas as regular cars and can skate by paying lower amounts in taxes.
With the low price of gas and more fuel efficient cars, the gas tax is worth much less today than it was worth in 1990. Edwards needs to raise the gas tax if he will stabilize the $12 billion backlog.
Louisiana needs new revenue to link many disconnected workers to jobs. According to the Center for Planning Excellence, 600,000, or 26 percent, of working-age adults in Louisiana do not have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate, making them ineligible for skilled work of any kind.
Another 525,000 workers have a high school diploma but lack the academic credits for a skilled trade. These two groups amount to 49 percent of Louisiana’s working age population. Louisiana must invest in these workers to connect them to jobs.
Raising taxes could allow the state to aide local areas in funding public transportation. Currently, less than 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget is allocated toward public transportation.
One of the largest barriers to linking disconnected workers to jobs is transportation to and from work. According to the Center for Planning Excellence, during interviews of service-based organizations in the Baton Rouge area, transportation consistently emerged as a top challenge for their clients.
Louisiana needs to raise taxes to invest in its citizens. But our state needs to raise new revenues in an equitable fashion, so higher-income earners are paying at a higher rate than low-income earners.
It’s time to cut the “no new taxes” rhetoric, Edwards. Your citizens need you to fund their futures.
Michael Beyer is a 21-year-old political science senior from New Orleans. You can reach him on Twitter @michbeyer.