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.
With the state of Louisiana continuing to reel from the impact of the coronavirus, parent and community leaders of Together Louisiana are calling on Congress to invest the funds needed to safely reopen schools. Parents and teachers worry that students' return to in-person classes without necessary health and safety precautions will spread the virus further and expose people with pre-existing conditions to lethal risk.
Building on online civic academies with experts including Tulane epidemiologist Dr. Hassig and Danielle Allen of Harvard University, leaders are turning to Congress to finance the cost of ensuring health safety at schools. Measures proposed by Together Louisiana include funding to:
- bridge the digital divide with school districts providing broadband internet free of charge for every public school student who needs it;
- hire more teachers, aids & tutors to decrease class size for districts where contagion levels make in-person school safe;
- make a "pod school" model accessible to low and moderate- income families, not just the wealthy, for districts where in-person school is *not* safe;
- build in-school testing capacity with same-day-results, so that EVERY child gets tested before school starts and periodically throughout the year;
- extra bus routes and drivers to allow for social distancing in transit; and
- create a school-based contact tracing operation, with adoption of masks and where appropriate, PPE.
Together New Orleans Demands That Local Police Be Required to Release Body Camera Footage Upon Demand
Together New Orleans, in partnership with Together Louisiana, is calling on the City Council of New Orleans to change Police Department policy to allow for immediate review of body camera footage, on demand. While a process does exist for footage release, it usually requires a public records request and internal process that often results in release of essential footage years after an event.
...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]
Relentless efforts by Together Louisiana resulted first in local media attention and then national media focus on the new storm brewing in New Orleans.
New Orleans Faces a Virus Nightmare, and Mardi Gras May Be Why, New York Times [pdf]
Together Louisiana Press Conference (done online)
March 15th Infographic Demonstrating Outbreak in New Orleans, Together Louisiana
How Early Intervention Can Save Lives, Together Louisiana
Numbers used by proponents of St. George breakaway "just don't add up"
In 2015, an effort to carve out a southeast portion of East Baton Rouge to form a new city called St. George failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. Local organizations, including Together Baton Rouge, helped lead the effort against the St. George petition.
This year, proponents returned with a similar proposal to breakaway, but under significantly different conditions. In the latest video released by 'Together Baton Rouge' (at right), leaders point out that numbers utilized by proponents of the St. George breakaway effort simply don't add up. In addition to a significant drop in ethnic diversity within newly drawn lines, residents would likely be faced with immediate tax hikes and public safety subsidies to make the finances work.
Civic academies about the upcoming vote have drawn significant crowds, including one session (photo above) at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church which drew 150 residents and congregational leaders. A teaching on public finance, delivered by local professors, informed small group conversations led by local leaders.
According to Together Baton Rouge,"We heard from a variety of voices and opinions, but the one thing that was clear is there is a strong desire for more honest information about what the true cost of the breakaway would mean, both for those in St. George and the larger EBR Parish."
The vote on whether to form a breakaway city is set for October 12th.
Confusion about St. George Comes From Promoters, The Advocate
Within hours of the shooting in New Zealand, diverse faith groups of Baton Rouge came together to support their Muslim neighbors. Bishop Michael Duca of the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge sent a message of solidarity for both the victims of the attack and the larger Muslim community.
At Masjid Al-Rahman mosque, Rev. Fred Smith of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, and Together Baton Rouge, joined Imam Waiel Shihadeh to speak to hundreds of congregants at Friday services. “Even though our worship comes from a different perspective, it’s important for us to recognize the value of inclusion — the value of universal love — which is what is a part of our Christian faith,” Smith said.
[Photo Credit: Jacqueline DeRobertis, The Advocate]
[Remarks below by Dianne Hanley of Together Baton Rouge, delivered at Baton Rouge City Hall]
After the organizing efforts of Together Baton Rouge led to the denial of Exxon Mobil’s tax exemption requests through the Industrial Tax Exemption Program by the Parish School Board, Exxon Mobil withdrew additional tax exemption requests the day before going before the Metro Council for approval. Leaders celebrated Exxon Mobil’s decision to pull the requests for tax exemptions since these did not conform to the clear standards for ITEP established by the city.
About this victory, which results in $6 Million for East Baton Rouge Parish, $2.9 Million for the school district and up to $3 Million for city government, Together BR leader Rev. Lee T. Wesley said that “local standards provide the thing that’s most important, both for our corporate partners and for our community, which is predictability, what’s new is that, for once, it’s not the predictability of a rubber-stamp; it’s the predictability of a genuine standard. That’s a positive and important change.”
At the same time, Together Baton Rouge publicly recognized and commended ExxonMobil’s investment in the community through education and other initiatives. “ExxonMobil is a major asset to our community with a local team that often goes above and beyond to support community efforts,” Together Baton Rouge stated.
[Photo Credit: Hilary Scheinuk, The Advocate]
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