Together Louisiana is pressing for a bill that would retain local government say in the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), the corporate tax break that has cost local communities billions in past tax revenues.
Stephanie Riegel, a former journalist who is working for Citizen Voice, the advocacy arm of Together Louisiana, to push the bill, said there’s no evidence Louisiana is losing jobs over the changes made by [Gov.] Edwards, while locals are indisputably seeing more money flowing into their coffers. The governor’s changes allowed locals to keep 20% of tax revenue from new investments; industry gets an 80% exemption, down from 100% previously. It also gives local governments the ability to approve or reject exemption requests, where previously that authority rested wholly with the state Board of Commerce and Industry, whose members are appointed by the governor.
A Together Louisiana analysis found property tax revenue statewide increased by at least $262 million from 2016 to 2021, money that went to schools, law enforcement and other local services. The figures are preliminary and based on a review of about 90% of the exemptions over that period, meaning it’s likely a conservative estimate.
[Photo Credit:The Advocate]
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.
...Edgar Cage threw up his hands.
“I feel like David but they’ve reduced the size of my stone to a grain of sand,” Cage said after leaving a Louisiana House committee hearing considering one of many bills that favor business but remove revenues from local governments.
Seventy-nine opponents had emailed their testimony because they couldn’t come to the State Capitol during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than reading the emails aloud, as Cage wanted, the missives were attached en masse “in the official” record. Less than a minute later the committee voted.
Make no mistake, Cage knows the score when facing the Goliath of business and energy special interests. And he doesn’t fool himself into thinking that most in the Republican-dominated Legislature would vote against business interests. But, legislators in the session that ends June 1 have had little opportunity to hear the other side.
“If those people (email senders) were here, they would have to been allowed to testify and (committee members) would have had to listen,” said Cage, of Together Louisiana. “My big problem is that this is supposed to be a democratic process.”
The pandemic caused by an airborne virus that often causes death necessarily requires keeping people apart during a gathering that usually decides policies up close and personal in crowded halls and hearing rooms. That social distancing has come at the cost of creating an echo chamber where legislators’ preconceived notions are reinforced by lobbyists and partisans. That isolation is what is fueling so much legislation that expand tax breaks, Cage said....
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, The Advocate]
Two years ago, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith (NCLI) persuaded the Sheriff of Caddo parish to become the first local official in state history to use newly granted local authority to reject an industrial tax exemption request. Since then, Caddo Parish, the City of Shreveport, and the Caddo Parish School Board rejected $11.5 Million in property tax exemptions -- effectively clawing back those dollars for human infrastructure and safety including schools and law enforcement.
At one point, according to KTBS:
"Caddo Parish was giving away more money than the entire state of Texas....That is why [Caddo Sheriff] Prator reviews each potential tax break thoroughly. He even sends his chief deputy to examine the company in person. He can do that now because two years ago, Together Louisiana along with North Louisiana Interfaith, a citizen's group, pushed lawmakers and the governor to fix the problem by making changes to ITEP.
Now, Caddo parish is faring better.
[Photo Credit: KTBS footage]
Fiscal Impact of ITEP Reform in Caddo Parish, North Louisiana Interfaith
NCLI Effort Leads to First Local Rejection of Industrial Tax Break, The Advocate & More (2018)
After succeeding in changing how economic incentives are granted in Louisiana, and teaching local municipalities and school districts how much tax exemptions cost the people they serve, Together Baton Rouge (TBR) leaders identified another source of public revenue loss: property tax roll omissions.
Vigilant leaders of TBR discovered that approximately $400 million in taxable property (at four Baton Rouge facilities owned by ExxonMobil) appears to have been omitted from the preliminary 2018 property assessment rolls provided by the East Baton Rouge Parish Tax Assessor.
Left uncorrected, this apparent omission of taxable property would result in a one-year loss of approximately $5.9 million in revenue to East Baton Rouge Parish taxing bodies over the next fiscal year, including a loss of $2.7 million to East Baton Rouge Parish public schools in the current fiscal year (a year in which the school district is running a multi-million deficit).
Holding Their Feet to the Fire, Bayou Brief
Letter to Tax Assessor, Together Baton Rouge
Attachments, Together Baton Rouge
Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith Wins Battles Against Unaccountable Tax Giveaways in Caddo Parish & Beyond
Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith leaders celebrated significant progress in how Caddo-area public officials weigh decisions related to public monies and the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP).
As a result of a tenacious local effort, leaders in Caddo Parish succeeded in persuading Sheriff Steve Prator (R) to become the first elected official in the state to deny an ITEP request under the Governor's Executive Order. Caddo School Board soon followed, rejecting Inferno's ITEP request by a vote of 7-5. Even after the Caddo School Board President called a special session to reconsider Inferno's request, the board rejected the request -- again.
After Sheriff Prator rejected all ITEP applications by Calumet, the Caddo Board attorney attempted to rewrite board policy to automatically accept all ITEP applications presented. NCLI successfully defeated the motion.
The City of Shreveport eventually approved a separate ITEP request by Calumet but, after intervention by the leadership of NCLI, reduced the approval to only 31-50% of the request.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Chamber of Commerce then attempted to present a matrix to the School Board to use as a guide when considering future requests. But NCLI was quick to respond with their own matrix, presented to the Board by Reverend Theron Jackson. The School Board eventually integrated NCLI demands into a revised matrix.
Not blind to what was going on, nearby Bossier Parish School Board and Police Jury decided to bypass the controversy and reject Calumet's ITEP request outright!
After two years of hard work on tax exemptions in Louisiana, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith leaders are proud of their work and looking to shift their attention to other pressing issues impacting their communities.
ITEP Matrix, Caddo Parish School Board
Calumet Estimated Property Taxes, Updated
After compelling testimony and intervention by leaders from Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith, the Shreveport City Council reduced Calumet's tax exemption request by 49%. The original request was for $858,444.30 and the amount approved totaled $437,769.70.Read more
Braving torrential rains, hundreds of Louisiana Association of Educators and Together Baton Rouge leaders publicly launched, together, a public campaign to raise teacher pay (see photo above).Read more
As the Baton Rouge Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) Committee considers new rules for local application of industrial tax exemptions, they heard starkly different stories by citizens and corporate executives. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce proposed dramatically looser rules on tax breaks, excusing some business from paying any taxes for five years, depending on the size of the corporation. Small business owners and citizen leaders of Together Baton Rouge called on the committee to ensure that tax incentives require job creation and serve in its designed capacity to incentivize (future) business investment, rather than pay for past expenditures.
The local nature of this debate is the result of Together Baton Rouge's efforts to de-centralize tax break decisions so that local entities sacrificing the tax revenue can weigh in on industrial tax break decisions.Read more