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]
“The Commission has not stopped, or even slowed the saltwater intrusion into our groundwater drinking sources, or the industrial pumping that is causing the contamination. Why? There are commissioners who are...employees of the very industries whose groundwater pumping is being raised right now.”
-- Dianne Hanley, Together Louisiana
This bill will allow industries to continue to control the Commission enabling the ethics violations that led to the bill’s creation. The bill was created in response to five commissioners, who are employees of ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific, Entergy, and the Baton Rouge Water Company, being charged by the Louisiana Board of Ethics with violations. Retroactively, the legislation would void the ethics violations of these five commissioners.
Senate Bill 203 implies that even if an individual is under civil investigation for ethics charges, the Louisiana Legislature can pass legislation to retroactively absolve them of any wrongdoing. In doing so, Senate Bill 203 regresses ethics law, endangering Baton Rouge’s clean water source, and setting a bad precedent regarding conflicts of interests.
Environmental advocates and groups are particularly alarmed by the bill because saltwater has been intruding on the Baton Rouge-area aquifer which supplies most of the drinking water to the region. These advocates and groups suspect that this is because industries are extracting too much water from the aquifer for commercial purposes.
The bill sailed through Louisiana’s House and Senate, so now it’s up to Governor John Bel Edwards to veto it. “In a conversation with the governor that we had, Together Louisiana and Together Baton Rouge, the governor shared with us that he thought the legislators will be low to support a bill that exempts anyone from the ethics code and that changes the ethics code for some,” Hanley explained. “We’re asking [the governor] to veto this because it would exonerate people who are violating the code, and it would put into law the ability to continue to be on the commission even if one has a conflict of interest.”
- The Conflicts of Interest SB 203 Enables Are As Clear As the Drinking Water Industries Monopolize, Big Easy [pdf]
- Black Caucus Calls Out What It Sees As Legislative Hypocrisy, Greater Baton Rouge Business Report [pdf]
When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith.
The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.” ....an unlikely coalition...emerged from across the political spectrum — including the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, the progressive Every Texan, and [Texas IAF], which does nonpartisan political work among religious groups.
The Texas Chapter 313 defeat is the second recent win against multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry subsidies in fossil fuel states. Last fall, organizers in Louisiana beat back a ballot initiative designed to counteract dramatic reforms to the state’s industry giveaway program. In a state that leans heavily Republican, people voted down the constitutional amendment by a landslide.
Broderick Bagert, who helped organize the Louisiana effort, sees what happened in Texas as part of a turning of the tides in a region where industry has long ruled. “In a lot of cases, it’s not that these battles have been lost — they just haven’t been fought,” he said. “What you’re seeing for the first time is the battles being fought.”
....Bagert noted that Louisiana and Texas are two of a handful of states whose industries will decide what our climate future will look like. “The question of these subsidies is being tied more and more with the question of whether these changes in energy production that we need to save the planet are going to be made in time to save the planet,” he said. “It all boils down to the price of energy. Once industries have to bear the full cost of their production, including emissions and taxes and all the other things that have been subsidized, then it’s no longer advantageous, and that’s when things start happening.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
The Unlikely Demise of Texas’ Biggest Corporate Tax Break, Texas Observer [pdf]
The event was held at St. Maria Gorretti Catholic Church, in a neighborhood in New Orleans East with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the city at just under 7 percent as of March 31. For two weeks canvassers from Together Louisiana walked the area’s streets, handing out flyers and attempting to make appointments for people who hadn’t already been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
For the group’s last canvassing effort, they brought along the band.
As demand for COVID-19 vaccine declines, public health officials say on-the-ground efforts like this are what’s needed....For canvassers Mimi Ayers and Katie Perry, engagement looks like sharing their vaccination stories whenever people they encounter have questions about the experience. “I'll say, ‘I got vaccinated. I did the Moderna shot. Here were my symptoms.’ Because I think it helps a lot for them to have a real person in front of them who's taken it. One person actually [told me] that,” Perry said.
...The Together Louisiana approach is derived from the organization’s efforts to engage voters during elections. The nonprofit is a partner in the Louisiana Department of Health’s “Bring Back Louisiana” campaign to reach herd immunity against the coronavirus....
“What can make something exciting more than food and music, particularly for New Orleans?” Lloyd of Together Louisiana said. “When you went canvassing and told people, ‘Hey, we're having this event, come on out, anyone who comes out can get vaccinated, and we're also going to have fish and a brass band, people's faces lit up.”...Together Louisiana plans to host another event at St. Maria Gorretti on May 29 to provide second shots for patients who got first doses on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Bobbi-Jeanne Misick, New Orleans Public Radio
The Latest Phase of Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Is Slow, Deliberate and on the Ground, New Orleans Public Radio [pdf]
Volunteers with Together Louisiana went door-to-door across several Baton Rouge neighborhoods Monday, April 19, to educate people about the vaccine and answer any questions they might have from the comfort of their own home.
“Reality is we’ve all been held captive for over a year,” said Khalid Hudson.
Hudson is one of the organizers with Together Baton Rouge and Together Louisiana. He said most of the hesitation from people comes from misinformation.
“I know there’s a lot of information, a lot of websites, a lot of news coverage, but many folks may be in some of these communities might not watch regular news or might not have access to regular internet,” said Hudson. “So, it’s like that information still has not got to them. So, we’re bringing the information to their doorstep.”
[Photo Credit: WAFB 9]
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.