When the recent gubernatorial campaign yielded a reduced voter turnout of only 46% -- and no clear winner -- clergy from Together Louisiana grew concerned, particularly when they learned that turnout from low income and predominantly minority neighborhoods was 17% lower than in 2016.
Says The Rev. Shawn Moses Anglim, pastor of the First Grace Methodist Church in mid-city New Orleans: “When major blocs of people aren’t participating that worries me. Whatever their reasons, it’s not good for the country, it’s not good for the state, and it’s not good for New Orleans.”
Reaching out to pastors from diverse denominations, he convened a meeting to decide what to do. Congregations in Baton Rouge, Alexandria and Shreveport held similar gatherings.
With help from Together Louisiana and the Power Coalition, the ministers put together envelopes to give to institutional leaders that held the names of about 30 voters who cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election but didn’t participate in the previous month's primary. Leaders were commissioned to reaching out personally to each of those voters and asking them to participate.
The nonpartisan strategy appeared to be working, with the first day of early voting yielding the highest turnout ever -- about 2,500 more than in 2016.
At a Baton Rouge event last week organized by Together Louisiana, representatives of various community groups stood in a line to announce, one after another, how many volunteers they had and how many voters they would visit. Julie Hoffman of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge, for instance, told the cheering audience that her temple had six volunteers who would talk to 180 voters.
Volunteers took their lists of names, addresses and phone numbers and started knocking on doors.
Morgan Clevenger, president of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association, was one of the volunteers in New Orleans’ 7th ward.
“You have to have a have conversation with them about why voting is important,” Clevenger said. Many people feel their vote doesn’t matter. They’ve voted before but haven’t seen a change, so feel that their specific vote doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.
“I say, ‘I hear you saying my vote doesn’t matter.’ I say, ‘If you don’t vote for you, would you vote for your neighbors?” Clevenger said. “They can get with that. It’s a selfless thing. They can help someone else and that’s a good thing.”
People are more receptive to someone from their own neighborhood. “What we’re doing here is building a community for those who may feel left out,” she said.
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, 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 a hard fight, Together Baton Rouge and allies won a salary increase for every teacher, para-professional, bus operator or other East Baton Rouge school district employee with two or more years at the district.
According to The Advocate:
"As they have at several previous meetings, employee groups — Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union and the East Baton Rouge Bus Driver’s Association — pressed once again for raises for all the district employees. The groups have joined forces with the faith-based group Together Baton Rouge to press the issue as well as to push the school system to reject all future requests from manufacturers for property tax breaks via the state’s 80-year-old Industrial Tax Exemption Program. They want the school system to use any ITEP savings to increase employees pay."
Leaders commended the school board and Superintendent Drake for this action, while acknowledging that more work remains to be done to secure salaries. In their words: "this was a big, big step."
[Photo Credit: The Advocate]
EBR School Board OK's $473M Budget, The Advocate [pdf]
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
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
Fighting a four-front battle to better invest local public funds, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith (NCLI) leaders recently persuaded the Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator to become the first local official in state history to use the newly-granted local authority to reject an industrial tax exemption request.
This month, three more local entities (Caddo Parish, the City of Shreveport, and the Caddo Parish School Board) will vote on multi-million dollar tax exemption requests, one application at a time.Read more