A tale of two sales tax exemptions

A tale of two sales tax exemptions

The Louisiana House of Representatives resoundingly voted down a bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Morris that would have permanently removed some exemptions to the state’s sales tax.

Number of the Day

72,400- number of Medicaid expansion enrollees living in rural Louisiana (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

The Louisiana House of Representatives resoundingly voted down a bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Morris that would have permanently removed some exemptions to the state’s sales tax. The exemptions are not currently in effect but will kick back in on June 30, 2018. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that this isn’t a good omen for tax reform during the regular session.

Tuesday’s vote raises questions about whether the majority-Republican chamber will take any actions this session to make a dent in the more than $1 billion budget gap that hits in mid-2018, when temporary sales taxes passed by lawmakers expire.

The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges has more:

As originally proposed, Morris’ legislation would have raised $173 million toward the $1.3 billion funding shortfall to be caused when temporary taxes will expire. … “Every time we grant another exemption, we increase the burden on those left to pay,” Morris said, noting that Danahay’s amendment would eliminate at least $100 million from the $173 million that HB609 originally would raise. “It’s arguably gutting the bill … It’s easy to say let’s do whatever the special interests want us to do. We’re going to have to face the music one day.”

While ending sales tax exemptions favored by corporate interests did not advance, a proposal to let voters decide whether diapers and feminine hygiene products should be exempt from sales tax failed in a Senate committee. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp has that story:

Sen. JP Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who had proposed the legislation, said the state already has granted tax exemptions for other necessities — including prescription drugs, utilities and most groceries. He argued that diapers and feminine hygiene products deserve the same treatment. “It’s not an option to have diapers,” he said, noting that children who don’t wear diapers can suffer significant health problems. “If you are a woman, you have to utilize feminine hygiene products.”

 

Criminal justice reform negotiations

Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state’s District Attorneys struck a deal for criminal justice reform that appears to be acceptable to all major stakeholders, even if it doesn’t provide the full breadth of reforms pushed for by advocates. The original plan would have reduced the prison population by 13 percent and decreased state spending on incarceration by $305 million over the next decade, redirecting $154 million to programs. The compromise is expected to reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent and save the state $78 million over the next 10 years, while sending $184 million to reinvestment programs to acclimate former prisoners to society, a $30 million boost from the original package. Rebekah Allen and Bryn Stole of The Advocate break down the parts that have passed.

The three bills, Senate Bills 220 and 221 by Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Senate Bill 139 by Martiny, rewrite sentences for most drug offenses, reducing penalties for low-level drug possession offenses and scaling prison terms based on the amount of drugs involved. The bills also overhaul the state’s numerous theft statutes and reduces or eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for several other non-violent crimes. Other measures contained in the legislative package will reduce financial burdens for people getting out of jail, address juveniles who are sentenced to life without parole and reinvest the money back into public safety programs.

Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O Donoghue shares parts of the reform plan that were left behind, and that may make a comeback next year.

For months, (Corrections Secretary Jimmy) LeBlanc advocated for a geriatric parole measure, which would have made most people convicted of murder eligible for parole once they reached age 50 and served 35 years in prison. That measure has been removed from the package, so most of the 4,850 people serving life sentences will still end up dying in prison unless they are granted a medical release. The district attorneys also successfully got a proposal to move Louisiana to a simpler, more transparent felony sentencing system shelved this year The governor’s office said it would like to return with a bill next year to make the felony class shift in 2018…The district attorneys and the Senate are at odds about what to do with people sentenced as juveniles to life without parole eligibility.

 

Local control when we say so

This week’s  favorable vote in the House on a bill that seeks to protect Confederate monuments has heightened tensions in the lower chamber that could spill over into other important discussions about the state budget, taxes and criminal justice reform. Nearly two dozen members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus walked out of the chamber after the vote. The Associated Press reports:

House Speaker Taylor Barras, a New Iberia Republican who supported the bill, said he’s concerned the issue’s divisiveness could affect other heated debates on the budget, taxes and criminal justice overhaul as the session enters its final weeks ahead of the June 8 adjournment. “There’s a lot of temperatures raised. It’s an emotional topic,” he said. (Chairman Joseph) Bouie said the black caucus had no plans to retaliate legislatively.

Nola.com/The Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry notes that the Legislature likes to play the “local control” card when it fits their ideological designs.

Want a living wage for your city? A hire-local mandate for city projects? A sanctuary city designation? You can pass it, but chances are great that the state’s going to try to put your city in its place. And for many major Southern cities that means white elected officials canceling black elected officials’ initiatives.

 

Gas tax narrowly advances

The effort to chip away at Louisiana’s massive backlog of transportation needs took a small but important step forward on Tuesday when the House Ways & Means Committee advanced legislation to raise the state gasoline tax by 17 cents per gallon and index future increases to inflation. The tax has not been raised since 1990, and its buying power has been whittled away since then. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports:

The bulk of the new dollars – about $260 million per year – would go for state priority projects, including “mega” plans like a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge for more than $1 billion. Another $137 million annually would be used for road and bridge preservation, a frequent complaint of DOTD officials, state lawmakers and others. Other money would go for non-interstate work, highway safety and multimodal projects.

 

Poverty and poor education

The reason Louisiana public school students often score low on achievement tests has little to do with the quality of teachers or the schools themselves. The biggest problem is that students in Louisiana are disproportionately poor – and poverty is inextricably linked to educational outcomes. LSU professor Bob Mann spoke on the topic at a panel organized by Volunteers in Public Schools. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier was there.  

Mann explained that poverty acts as an anchor, weighing down students across the state and causing problems that public school teachers are ill-equipped to handle and that too many residents ignore. “If we’re not willing to face that fact, it’s never going to change,” he said. Instead, the state has adopted a series of educational changes that haven’t worked well in his view. “You name the so-called reform in this state and we’ve done it,” Mann said

 

Number of the Day

72,400– number of Medicaid expansion enrollees living in rural Louisiana (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)