Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tax amnesty begins today; Noncompete clauses for sandwich makers; No more hospital bills for rape victims?; and Utah tackles poverty for moral and economic reasons

Tax amnesty begins today

A month-long tax amnesty—the second in as many years—begins today, reports the Associated Press.


The amnesty runs from Wednesday through Nov. 14, allowing people to settle state tax debts with half the interest they would otherwise owe and no penalties charged…The amnesty program needs to bring in $100 million to keep this year’s state budget in balance. Lawmakers used the money they anticipated receiving to help pay for the Medicaid program. The Department of Revenue estimates 450,000 taxpayers owe $1.8 billion in Louisiana taxes.


Amnesty—which the Legislative Fiscal Office has stated only accelerates revenue collection and does not actually increase revenue—is one of many gimmicks that the governor and Legislature have relied on in recent years to balance the budget. Most delinquent taxes are owed by a handful of multinational corporations who use “tax planning” to shield income from taxation and often settle with the state only after years of back-and-forth battles.


Noncompete clauses for sandwich makers

Noncompete clauses which have long been standard for many top executives. But for minimum wage workers? The New York Times Upshot blog reports:


If you are a chief executive of a large company, you very likely have a noncompete clause in your contract, preventing you from jumping ship to a competitor until some period has elapsed. Likewise if you are a top engineer or product designer, holding your company’s most valuable intellectual property between your ears. And you also probably have a noncompete agreement if you assemble sandwiches at Jimmy John’s sub sandwich chain for a living… American businesses are paying out a historically low proportion of their income in the form of wages and salaries. But the Jimmy John’s employment agreement is one small piece of evidence that workers, especially those without advanced skills, are also facing various practices and procedures that leave them worse off, even apart from what their official hourly pay might be. Collectively they tilt the playing field toward the owners of businesses and away from the workers who staff them.


Most states do little to regulate non-compete clauses. One notable exception is California, where they are outlawed. Many in Silicon Valley say that’s a crucial factor behind the region’s innovation and high rate of entrepreneurship.


No more hospital bills for rape victims?

After The Times-Picayune reported sexual assault and rape victims often get stuck with large hospital bills, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration convened a meeting of policymakers, hospital representatives and advocates in search of a solution. reports:


Shannon Bates, deputy communications director for the governor, said the administration expects later this week to unveil details of a plan that will ensure people who are sexually assaulted are no longer saddled with massive bills following rape exams. … In Louisiana, victims of sex crimes often face hefty bills for forensic medical exams and related care, even though state and federal guidelines require that many of these services be provided at no cost to victims.


Unlike some states, Louisiana currently does not have a statewide system for protecting victims, but a parish-based system that means victims can be treated very differently depending on what hospital treats them.


Utah tackles poverty for moral and economic reasons
Utah has long had poverty rates below the national average. Yet policymakers there are redoubling efforts to tackle the problem, with Republicans at both the state and federal level taking the lead, according to an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune.


They have come to the empirically solid conclusion that children who are born into poverty enter life with the deck overwhelmingly stacked against them. That low-income households are led, often heroically, by parents who themselves grew up poor, didn’t get much education and who struggle daily, if not with health or addiction issues, then with the exhausting race just to keep up. And that, with smart but relatively inexpensive efforts at offering help for parents and children to get basic health care, be screened for developmental delays or other handicaps and stay in school, that cycle can be broken.


Louisiana would do well to follow Utah’s lead. The high cost of child care, lack of access to early childhood education, the rising cost of higher education and poor health outcomes all contribute to one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Fortunately, smart policy steps can help break the cycle, and as the editorial notes, “responses to poverty aren’t things we do just because of our own bleeding hearts, but out of hard-headed understanding that money spent now, and spent wisely, will save a lot of money later.”


Number of the Day


$1.8 billion—Delinquent taxes owed to the state of Louisiana, mostly corporate taxes (Source: Department of Revenue)