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]
When Hurricane Ida knocked out the eight transmission lines carrying electricity into New Orleans in September, many people spent days in the dark.
Brenda Lomax-Brown, president of the city’s Hollygrove-Dixon Neighborhood Association, said median incomes of around $30,000 made it difficult for many in the area to evacuate or afford generators. Challenges included spoiled food, the inability to refrigerate medicine, and the difficulty for the elderly to find a place to stay cool. Cell phones died and cut off communications.
“People were desperate,” said Ms. Lomax-Brown. “Without your phone you can’t communicate with your loved ones who may be out of town, or with your neighbors to let them know how their house fared.”
New Orleans nonprofits are now stepping in to try to provide emergency power. Together New Orleans, a coalition of religious and civic groups, is raising money to add rooftop solar with batteries to 85 congregations and community centers. Their goal is for everyone in New Orleans to be a mile or less away from what they are calling “community lighthouses,” said Gregory Manning, pastor at Broadmoor Community Church.
“You get the ordinary benefits of solar, but if and when the grid goes out, you’ve got a real network that can respond,” said Together New Orleans organizer Broderick Bagert.
[Photo: Pastor Gregory Manning Broadmoor Community Church, New Orleans, LA. Credit Kathleen Flynn, Wall Street Journal]
Wary of Being Left in the Dark, Americans Produce Their Own Power, Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Hiller [pdf]
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]