Rev. Paul Skeith from SoCo Episcopal Community and Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) testified at the Travis County Commissioners Court to advocate that any private company receiving public tax subsidies from the county pay living wages, benefits, a career track, and strategy to hire locally. The Court subsequently adopted these and other worker safety measures as part of a package advocated by CTI congregations and member institutions including Workers Defense Project, LIUNA, and Central Texas Building Trades.
On Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court held a discussion on “Project Silicon Silver,” widely speculated to be the alias for chipmaking giant Samsung’s development contract. The discussion centered around acceptance of the preliminary application, along with a corresponding $150,000 fee paid out to the county by the developer.
The county is considering providing financial benefits in exchange for Samsung’s adherence to worker protection, wage, compensation, OSHA requirements and more.
Several citizen callers also stressed the need for county stipulations, including a living wage indexed to cost of living, local employee minimums and health insurance benefits for employees.
Father Paul Skeith of SoCo Episcopal Community advocated for all of the above issues, in addition to the opportunity for employees to rise within the company.
Jessica Wolff with Workers Defense Project highlighted the strengths of the development standards, citing the local hiring requirement, construction training requirement and anti-retaliation provisions, and called for the standards set in this policy to become the county norm.
”We recognize this is a great first step and there’s still more work to be done,” Wolff said.
On Tuesday, voters rejected the idea in a landslide. All 64 parishes, including GOP and Democratic strongholds, voted against it. Almost as many Louisiana voters rejected the proposed Constitutional Amendment 5, as it was known, 1.22 million, as voted for President Donald Trump, 1.25 million.
“You’re talking about liberal, conservative, Black, White, Democrat, Republican, Independent, it failed by a landslide,” said Edgar Cage, an organizer with Together Louisiana, which rallied against the amendment. “This should be a clear message to the Legislature that the taxpayers, the people of Louisiana are tired of these corporate tax exemptions and giveaways.”
On Tuesday morning, Khalid Hudson, a Together Louisiana organizer, hopped in a white Chevy Silverado at City Park in Baton Rouge as a volunteer riding shotgun used a PA system to get several dozen supporters lined up behind them. A caravan took shape, as a line of cars and bicycles adorned with signs that said “No on 5” and “Stop corporate welfare” followed Hudson on a route that took them past a host of precincts in predominantly Black areas of Baton Rouge that saw low turnout in the early voting period. A crop of volunteers followed on foot for the journey across Old South and north Baton Rouge.
With the presidential election sucking up most of the oxygen, Hudson said Together Louisiana wanted to get out their message on Amendment 5, which was placed far down the lengthy ballot and asked voters, “Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments for payments in lieu of taxes?”
Edgar Cage, a leader of Together Louisiana, a statewide network of congregations and civic organizations, and an opponent of the Amendment, called it “corporate welfare” and another tax loophole that allows corporations to avoid paying their fair share.
Sixty-three percent of Louisiana voters, or a total of 1,221,197, voted against the amendment.
Amendment 5 Opponents Say Louisiana Lawmakers Should Take the Amendment’s Defeat to Heart, Louisiana Illuminator [pdf]
...Members of the community are asking why a major New Orleans employer is asking for a tax exemption on years-old additions made to their facilities. The watchdog group Together New Orleans says Folgers Coffee Company, with two locations in New Orleans East, should owe the city millions in taxes on additions at their plants dating back to 2017.
It has people like Shawn Anglim, who helped create Morris Jeff Community School, concerned for the entities that could be receiving much-needed tax money during a pandemic.
“We are not really asking for much, we’re asking for Folgers to follow the law,” Anglim said.
The law Anglim mentioned, requires businesses like Folgers to pay taxes on personal property, machinery, equipment and merchandise.
While labor rights activists support Tesla’s stated commitment to a minimum wage of $15 an hour, substantially above Austin’s $7.25, the agreement sheds no light on which workers this standard applies to. The average hourly rate for manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is $22.
“The fear is that a company like Tesla keeps its high-level creative jobs in places like the Bay Area and begins to see Austin like a low-wage, high-tech town,”
said Doug Greco, lead organizer of Central Texas Interfaith, representing a coalition of nonprofit groups in Austin.
[Photo Credit: Cyber Truck: Tesla; Map: Lasagnaforone / Getty]
Amidst Deliberation Over $14.7M Taxpayer Subsidy for Tesla, Central TX Interfaith Calls for Living Wages
[Excerpts from Community Impact & Austin Monitor]
Travis County commissioners continue to consider a plan to offer electric automaker Tesla millions of dollars in economic incentives to build a factory in eastern Travis County, but with no date yet announced for a decision on the matter. If approved, Tesla could receive nearly $14.7 million in property tax rebates across 10 years with additional rebates in the 10 years following.
At the commissioners' June 30 meeting, Travis County community members again phoned in to voice support and concern regarding the proposed incentives. Several speakers encouraged the county to leverage for greater worker wage and protection commitments.
"We are skeptical. Numerous studies have shown that local governments rarely if ever receive benefits commensurate with what incentives cost, and, despite what they say, businesses rarely if ever give incentives much weight when deciding where to locate," said [Rev.] Michael
Floyd, who spoke on behalf of Central Texas Interfaith....
Floyd...pointed out that even at the average wage cited by Tesla, a family of three would still qualify for Travis County Rental Assistance. Currently, people earning 150 to 250 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, or $31,580 to $54,300, qualify to receive rental assistance from the county due to an expansion in eligibility requirements resulting from Covid-19.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Tesla via Community Impact]
County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]
The city-parish’s efforts to address food deserts in north Baton Rouge and other parts of the city has reached what Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called a major milestone through the launch of the Healthy Food Retail Initiative...to provide incentives to grocers to set up shop in some of the city-parish’s underserved communities.
Broome was joined by an array of community partners during the announcement Tuesday, one being Together Baton Rouge, which has been working to bring more affordable, healthier food options to parts of the city where grocery stores are scarce.
Edgar Cage, a spokesman affiliated with the faith-based organization, said 23% of the parish’s population live in areas with little choice for healthy food. The national average is 7%, he said.
Together Baton Rouge claims the most vulnerable residents affected by the parish’s food deserts are 19,000 children and 7,000 seniors.
“Early on we knew there needs to be infrastructure created to make things happen,” Cage said.
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, The Advocate]
Eight months after their victory in reforming the state Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), leaders of Together Louisiana noticed that industrial tax exemptions spiked 441% in its last year (2016), with the majority of tax exemptions granted after the reforms passed. They additionally noticed that the Commerce and Industry Board reversed the wording of the measure to undermine the reform that would have limited exemptions to proposals that had secured the approval of the local municipalities sacrificing the revenue.Read more
Before a packed house of leaders from Together Louisiana, and after eight intense rounds of public testimony, the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry voted to defer all renewal applications for industrial tax exemptions, including an application for property tax breaks by Koch Industries which would have cost (disaster-declared) East Baton Rouge Parish $1.9 million in revenue.Read more
Reforms include requirements that impacted local tax authorities approve the subsidy, including municipal government, school boards and law enforcement; exemptions demonstrate a Return on Investment (ROI) for new jobs or retention of good jobs; and that subsidy applicants sign contractual agreements based on promised investments and local hires.Read more
Study findings show that over the last 10 years, $16.7 billion in local tax revenue has been redirected to subsidize heavy manufacturing, amounting to over $535 thousand per job reportedly created. Louisiana's top 5 environmental polluters, according to the EPA, received $506 million in taxpayer subsidies. Even British Petroleum (BP) received $9.4 million in state subsidies during and after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Louisiana is the only state in the country with a board that gives away local tax revenue, without approval from the local governments losing the money.Read more