Louisiana gives away billions of dollars each year through various tax exemptions, exclusions, credits and other breaks. With the state facing a $440 million budget shortfall next year and a $1.4 billion gap between revenues and expenses in the 2018-19 budget year, Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans has filed numerous bills aimed at eliminating some of the tax breaks. Morrell argues that many do not provide the state with a significant return on investment, while others are simply unaffordable. The editorial board of the Lafourche Daily Comet agrees:
That is a generous system, but it is one that is no longer working for Louisiana’s people, who deserve to know from year to year what services they will have from, among other institutions, hospitals and universities. Choosing which of these breaks to keep and which to eliminate must be the result of careful and thoughtful debate. It shouldn’t come down to which industries have the best lobbyists but which tax breaks return the best dividend for taxpayers. This is a crucial process and one that residents should follow as it develops in Baton Rouge. Lawmakers might not eliminate enough of the tax breaks to get us on sound footing, but filtering out the breaks that aren’t doing us any good will be a welcome reform.
Segregation persists in post-Katrina schools
Despite ending automatic school assignments and increasing school choice, the post-Katrina education reforms in New Orleans’ public school system have not resulted in more racial integration in the schools. White families still largely opt to send their students to private schools, a study by Tulane’s Education Research Alliance found, resulting in high concentrations of minority students in the independently run public charter schools. These patterns persist across the country, despite evidence that integrated schools work better for all students. Danielle Dreilinger with The Times-Picayune/Nola.com reports:
Integration is an American cultural value. Moreover, studies show diverse schools work better for all, Weixler said. But “very few school systems–whether traditional or those with choice-based reforms–have had much success in integrating schools.” [The researchers] give two relatively laissez-faire possibilities for desegregation in New Orleans. Some charter elementaries are explicitly recruiting to enroll a diverse student body. And recent improvements in test scores might begin to draw students from the 22 percent that currently attend private school. However, “the long tradition of private education, along with the test-focused and highly structured nature of many of the charter schools, will likely prevent any large shifts,” the researchers write.
Changes ahead for Hollywood South
Independent studies of Louisiana’s film subsidy program have repeatedly found that state’s return on investment for every dollar in tax credits is less than 25 cents. That dismal finding led the Legislature to rein in the ballooning tax credit program in 2015 by placing a $180 million annual cap on the amount of credits that can be redeemed each year. Now, at the urging of Gov. John Bel Edwards, lawmakers are proposing additional tweaks to the program. Several of the proposed changes aim to directing more of the benefits of the credits to Louisiana-based companies and residents. Tyler Bridges with The Advocate reports:
Under bills filed by (Sen. J.P.) Morrell, the state would reserve 5 percent of the $180 million in tax credits for companies “that establish permanent operations and invest in full-time permanent, high-paying jobs in Louisiana,” according to Louisiana Economic Development. Morrell would also provide an additional 10 percent credit for movies written by Louisiana residents with budgets of no more than $5 million. In another proposed change, the state would direct money “for education and training programs for Louisianans interested in film industry careers and for grants for Louisiana filmmakers,” according to Louisiana Economic Development.
Other legislators think the film program is beyond repair and that taxpayer money could be better spent elsewhere:
“That’s a big pot of money that we could maybe invest in something else that could benefit our state,” state Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said in an interview. “I have serious concerns about whether we’re getting our return on investment. Suppose I took that same money and told people we’d give a 15 percent tax credit on building ships in Avondale. I think we’d build more permanent jobs that would ripple through the economy.” Concern about the program’s effectiveness has led state Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, to file two bills that would kill it. “If it can’t be fixed, let’s get rid of it,” said Luneau, who readily admitted he would rather fix it.
Gas tax hike hits a bump in the road
Momentum to raise the state’s gas tax has been steadily building in the months leading up to this year’s fiscal session. With the state facing a $13.1 billion backlog in transportation maintenance projects and growing pressure to address traffic congestion along the I-10 corridor, lawmakers in Baton Rouge have begun to come around to the idea of charging more at the pump. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, however, wants controls on how money will be spent before he backs a higher tax. Will Sentell with The Advocate has the story:
Abramson is sponsoring a two-bill package, including a constitutional amendment, aimed at tightening controls at the state Department of Transportation and Development. “This is an effort to put some specifics in the law and in the Constitution to make the program better and restore the confidence of the public,” he said. “I think there is a lack of confidence among the public with the current program,” Abramson said. The Legislation would require DOTD to spell out three-year timelines for projects where dollars are assured and three-year plans for projects if new money becomes available. DOTD would also be required to say whether projects meet local and regional needs.
Number of the Day
90 – percent of Louisianans who support a law requiring private employers to pay men and women the same amount of money for the same work. The Louisiana Legislature has rejected 28 equal pay bills in the past decade. (Source: The Louisiana Survey Pt. IV)