After a nearly two-year wait, members of the Louisiana Senate finally had an opportunity to weigh in on tax legislation that would address the state’s fiscal cliff on Wednesday evening. The Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee elected to drastically overhaul Rep. Lance Harris’ sales tax bill, House Bill 27, which would have raised just over half of the $648 million needed for a standstill budget when it came from the House. The committee added nearly $300 million in revenue by stripping sales tax breaks for manufacturing machinery, farm equipment and business utilities – setting up a likely showdown with the House in the final days of the special session. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
Louisiana’s state sales tax rate is 5 percent, dropping to 4 percent on July 1 when the new budget year begins, blowing a hole in the state’s revenue. The bill by House Republican leader Lance Harris that was backed by the full House moves the rate to 4.33 percent on July 1. The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee kept the tax rate. But senators stripped off the five-year expiration date and removed high-dollar exemptions for businesses, particularly manufacturing facilities. Senators then sent the rewritten measure to the full Senate for debate. The proposal would raise $642 million to stave off deep cuts across state government in fewer than five weeks. That’s significantly higher than the $365 million raised in the more business-friendly House version.
Harris described his bill as a “compromise” and said the amended version would not have a chance of passage in the House. To ensure that Harris’ bill isn’t the only instrument in play, the committee also amended House Bill 12 by Rep. Walt Leger III to make it a duplicate of Harris’ bill. Deslatte explains:
After Harris refused to commit to how he would handle the sales tax bill when it returns to his chamber, senators also hijacked a House-approved tax bill sponsored by a Democrat and made it a duplicate sales tax bill. If Harris won’t agree to bring up the rewritten sales tax bill for a House floor vote, senators hope that Rep. Walt Leger, the top-ranking Democrat in the chamber, will ask House lawmakers to vote on his version. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, said the duplicate maneuver aimed to ensure that lawmakers would “not be held hostage on June 4 by any one individual.”
Both bills now go to the Senate floor for debate. Meanwhile, the House will be debating two different versions of the state budget this morning: House Bill 26 by Rep. Walt Leger that proposes funding state government at the same level as in the current year, and House Bill 1 by Rep. Cameron Henry that would make significant cuts to health care, higher education and public safety. Julia O’Donoghue with Nola.com/The Times Picayune details what’s not funded in Henry’s budget proposal.
EITC expansion wins Senate approval
The Earned Income Tax Credit has a long history of bipartisan support, and that pattern continued in the Louisiana Senate on Wednesday. A proposal by Sen. J.P Morrell of New Orleans to increase the state EITC from 3.5 percent to 5 percent of the federal EITC was approved by a 30-5 vote in the upper chamber. The increase would not only help to offset the impact of the proposed state sales tax renewal but would help to pull even more working Louisiana families above the poverty line in years to come. Paul Braun with the LSU Manship School News Service reports:
Sales taxes are generally seen as regressive tax that have a disproportionate impact on lower-income people. [Sen. J.P.] Morrell noted the federal earned income tax credit was created during the Reagan administration to aid the working poor. “I always find it ironic that I have to defend a program founded by Ronald Reagan to conservatives,” Morrell said. “This is a program that is meant to encourage people to work. It’s not welfare — you have to earn money to make money.” Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, echoed Morrell’s argument and praised the bill for encouraging citizens to work. “We talk all the time about putting money back in the pockets of the working people — these are the workers of the state,” Chabert said. “This is your opportunity to give back to the little man.”
Senate Bill 10 will be assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee, which voted down similar measures last week.
A history of health inequity in New Orleans
As the City of New Orleans celebrates its 300th birthday, The Data Center is taking a hard look at numbers that reveal where the city has made progress and where major challenges and areas for growth remain. The latest report in the New Orleans Prosperity Index: Tricentennial Collection is titled Advancing Health Equity in New Orleans: Building on Positive Change in Health. The report goes all the way back to New Orleans’ founding in the 18th century; explaining how city was built by enslaved people, and how that dark history is the root of many of the inequities that persist today.
The historical and perpetuated oppression of black Americans, from the time of the city’s founding to present day policies and practices, has resulted in inextricable ties between race, socioeconomic conditions, and population health. Bolstered by centuries of stereotypes
and false myths about human differences and group behaviors, racial stratification in societal treatment, and access to power, resources, and opportunities remains. The deep embedding of racial discrimination and privileges associated with being white is evident in the unequal distribution of income, education, and a broad range of health-promoting resources and opportunities, neighborhood conditions, and the generational accumulation of wealth as documented in the essays that make up this Tricentennial Collection.
The report also includes a set of recommendations aimed at addressing the root causes of health inequities in the city:
While New Orleans has come a long way in understanding and acknowledging the policies and systems that shaped our unequal city over 300 years, there remains a steep ladder to climb in developing policies and programs to promote healthy lives for all New Orleanians. Addressing all the factors that influence health and shape the communities in which people live is bound to be complex. Public health and health care alone cannot re-shape the economic, physical, social, and service environment of New Orleans to ensure all people have resources and opportunities to live healthy lives. Doing so will require a collaborative approach – including public health and other
governmental sectors, local non-profit, business, and community voices.
Number of the Day
7.9 – Number of infant mortalities per 1,000 births to African American mothers in New Orleans, compared to 3.5 infant deaths per 1,000 births to white mothers in the city. (Source: The Data Center)