...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
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
For the first time in the history of Louisiana's Industrial Tax Exemption Program, a school board rejected an application in order to preserve public funding for its schools. Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith (NCLI) leaders and Caddo Parish teachers spoke passionately at a Caddo Parish School Board meeting, asking board members to "put the students first." As a result, the Board voted to deny exemptions from school board taxes for Inferno Manufacturing, Inc.Read more