Homeowners, non-manufacturing businesses and ordinary citizens are the big losers when local and state government give away billions of dollars in property tax breaks for large petrochemical plants. That’s the argument from former Baton Rouge Councilman Ryan Heck, a Republican, who outlined his views about the Industrial Tax Exemption Program in an essay for the far-right blog The Hayride. Prior to this, ITEP’s critics have come from progressive grassroots organizations, led by Together Baton Rouge, while organizations like the Baton Rouge Area Chamber have fought to preserve the tax breaks:
The big petrochemical corporations have exploited the intent of ITEP for years. Most of the exemptions don’t go to “lure” a plant to town or spur an expansion. We’ve been giving exemptions to subsidize companies’ run-of-the mill annual capital expenditures. We do it every single year to the same companies, and we’ve been doing it for 80 years. You know how many of these “incentives” ExxonMobil has gotten in the last 10 years? Remember, they’ve been in Baton Rouge since 1909 – for about 110 years. Over the last 10 of those years they’ve gotten FORTY-SEVEN separate ITEP exemptions in East Baton Rouge Parish alone. Those exemptions are taking – wait for it – $2 BILLION (with a “b”) of Exxon’s property off the tax rolls right now, this year, in 2018.
(Full disclosure: LBP Executive Director Jan Moller is a member of the Board of Commerce and Industry, which oversees ITEP)
Louisiana led the way in Medicaid expansion
Other red states are seemingly taking notice of the many benefits that come along with Medicaid expansion. Voters in three conservative bastions – Idaho, Nebraska and Utah – expanded Medicaid during the midterms, and Montana rejected expansion but further funded Medicaid at the state level with an increase in cigarette taxes. The Advocate editorial board notes that Louisiana’s 2016 decision to expand the program was the right choice, and that the numbers are there to back it up:
The Louisiana Health Insurance Survey is performed every two years by researchers at LSU. It found 11.4 percent of non-elderly adults in the state did not have health insurance in 2017 — down from 22.7 percent uninsured in 2015. Under Medicaid expansion, which took effect July 2016 under Edwards’ executive order, more than 487,000 non-elderly adults have received health care coverage, the survey reported. Since 2010, nearly 90 rural hospitals across the nation have shut their doors, reported The New York Times recently. In Louisiana, rural hospitals are healthier, as working families in poorer parishes now have reliable insurance coverage under Medicaid expansion. It’s a good deal for the state’s general fund because most of the costs are covered by the U.S. Treasury and a hospital fee. Those are still costs, of course, but we believe the benefits vastly outweigh the burden. A healthier population is the goal that should be kept in mind. We don’t know how many states will now follow suit, but it’s a good bet that the benefits found in our state will be persuasive elsewhere.
Teacher walkout is possible
Pay raises for Louisiana teachers and school support staff are on the table next session. But with teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona striking this past year over low wages and poor working conditions, many are asking whether the currently discussed $1,000 raise for teachers will be enough to prevent a walkout. Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, visited the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday to discuss the issue, and The Advocate’s Will Sentell was there:
Carter said that, in his visits around the state, some teachers and other school employees are ready to walk off the job today. “They are also fed up with a lack of resources, poor student discipline and a lack of parental involvement,” he said of teachers. Carter said LFT members want to see if there are “true discussions” among state leaders about public education needs or “just rhetoric.” “Those (walkout) actions do not start with Larry Carter,” he said. “They start from teachers in the classroom.”
Salary increases for school support workers were also discussed, as many teacher aides, bus drivers and other school support staff make near poverty wages.
The governor wants to boost salaries for cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and others by $500 annually. The price tag would be $114 million per year. Carter said support workers last got a pay boost of $1,000 in 2008. “It is shameful that people we trust with the safety and welfare of our children often earn less than $20,000 per year for a full-time job,” he said.
The retirement gap
Retirement can look very different for people based on many factors besides income: the type of work one does (physical labor vs. white collar), as well as how healthy an individual is can have significant impacts on the money available when one retires. A new study from The Urban Insitute’s Richard W. Johnson, sheds light on this “retirement gap”:
Older people with limited education must confront multiple employment obstacles. In addition to facing disproportionate health risks, which appear to be rising, they are more likely than college graduates to work in physically demanding jobs and to be laid off. Poor health raises out-of-pocket health care spending at older ages. Combined with low lifetime earnings and limited access to employer-sponsored retirement accounts, these challenges threaten later-life financial security for less-educated workers, reinforcing growing earnings inequities and raising income inequality at older ages.
Health, education, and type of profession often predict whether an individual will retire at the 62 years old mark, or wait to collect at 66. This has a significant impact on retirement income.
A later retirement often means a more comfortable retirement. Today, 62-year-olds receive 33 percent more Social Security income each month, for the rest of their lives, by waiting to collect benefits at age 66 instead of 62, when people first qualify for retirement benefits. Waiting until age 70 to collect raises benefits another 40 percent. Working longer also boosts lifetime earnings, which generally raise Social Security benefits even more because benefits are tied to past earnings. In addition, people can set aside more money for retirement when they earn more. And those savings don’t have to last as long when people keep working and shorten their retirement.
Number of the day
21 – Percentage of Americans that have no money saved for retirement (Source: Northwestern Mutual)