Unleash Local!

Unleash Local!

Years of fruitless efforts to persuade the Louisiana Legislature to establish a state minimum wage have prompted a change in tactics this year. As columnist Tim Morris explains in Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, Gov. John Bel Edwards is backing a constitutional amendment (Senate Bill 155 by Sen. Troy Carter of New Orleans) that would let voters decide whether to establish a $9 hourly minimum wage. Louisiana is one of only five states without a minimum wage law, despite polls showing strong public support for increasing pay at the lowest end of the wage scale.

Some Democrats applauded but Republicans remained unmoved, prompting one political observer to tweet: “Would love to understand the argument against letting people vote on whether to establish a state minimum wage.” The answer is pretty obvious: If the people are allowed to vote on a minimum wage increase, they will approve it. A statewide telephone survey of 917 adults conducted Feb. 7 to March 15 by interviewers at Louisiana State University’s Public Policy Research Lab, found that 81 percent of Louisiana residents would support a minimum wage of $8.50 an hour. That included 94 percent support from Democrats, 78 percent from independents and 72 percent from Republicans.

While the bill is likely to face opposition from some business interests, Morris notes that a modest wage hike is unlikely to cause much disruption.

Someone will always argue that a minimum wage increase will kill jobs, but you would be hard pressed to find an economist who would argue that going from $7.25 in 2009 to $9 in 2020 would cripple many healthy businesses.

Others are trying a different approach to raising the wage statewide, arguing that local communities should have the ability to determine appropriate wage and labor standards – a right that the Legislature took away in 1997. The Unleash Local! campaign, which includes LBP, is backing House Bill 422 by Rep. Royce Duplessis of New Orleans. But The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports that the bill got off to a rocky start when House leaders had the bill shipped to a hostile committee.

State Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, led an effort to send the bill to a different committee from the one it is destined for. The new committee appears more hostile to the bill, though Miguez insists he wanted to divert it to the Labor Committee he sits on because it better fits the subject matter. Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, said he “absolutely” thinks the move was a political one. “It’s not that it won’t get a fair hearing in Labor,” Duplessis said. “I’m fully prepared to have that debate. But there are certain political realities. There was a reason that was done.”


On corporate rent-seeking
In Louisiana and elsewhere, corporations often pit states and communities against each other in high-stakes bidding wars as they decide where to make major investments. Such rent-seeking often happens without enough public scrutiny, and the returns to communities are questionable. The Advocate’s editorial board reflects on a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Barton Swain:

There’s nothing wrong with competition, of course, but as Swaim points out, this is “not a proper bidding war. Officials are competing against offers they can’t see. But they want the deal and attendant publicity, and their own money isn’t at stake, so they give the companies just about everything they want.” … In many cases, adds Swaim, the downsides of these deals don’t emerge until later. “Companies don’t always bring the promised number of jobs,” he notes, “and the incentive agreements are secretly renegotiated to reflect more modest targets. Even if the jobs targets are met, the benefits aren’t necessarily what they appear.” The European Union has tackled rent-seeking by acting as a referee, placing a cap on incentive packages offered by member countries to keep bidding wars from going through the roof. Swaim suggests that Congress could invoke its constitutional power to regulate commerce among the states to do something similar.


The Baton Rouge jury “glitch”
The New York Times picks up on the “computer glitch” that has excluded an estimated 150,000 people in Louisiana’s capital city – most of them young – from the jury pool since 2011. As Alan Blinder reports, the mishap was discovered by a law student working on the defense team of a Shreveport man being tried for murder. But it may also be part of a larger, national problem and potentially raises constitutional questions:

“It is a vital government function that isn’t that hard to get right, so it’s at least a bit surprising to see errors today that you might think had been eliminated 20 years ago,” said David N. Rosen, a lawyer who was involved in a jury selection debacle in the early 1990s in Connecticut. “It counts as something that sounds hard to believe until you think a little more about it, and then it becomes all too easy to believe.” In the Connecticut case, a truncated data field somehow identified all Hartford residents as dead, preventing them from being considered for federal juries. In Kent County, Mich., hundreds of thousands of people, many of them black, were not in contention for jury summonses in the early 2000s because a glitch led to only part of a master list being used to pick potential jurors. The Indiana Supreme Court in 2002 overturned a death sentence after “a flawed program” excluded nearly one-third of a county’s jury pool. And in the nation’s capital, a programming error once kept Washingtonians with misdemeanor convictions from jury duty.


Jim Beam on ITEP
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ effort to reform the nation’s most lucrative corporate tax break program has drawn predictable fire from industry lobbyists in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has been particularly incensed by the fact that local authorities have been given input to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which exempts corporations from taxes levied by those same local authorities. LABI President Stephen Waguespack has called for more “stability” in the way property tax exemptions are handled, even though that’s exactly what new rules for the program are designed to ensure. The inimitable Jim Beam of The (Lake Charles) American-Press weighs in:

Don Pierson, secretary of the state Department of Economic Development, in an interview with The Advocate after the vote, said the new rules do provide predictability that corporations seek when evaluating investments. Pierson said the rules were drafted with input from industry, local government and community activists. …  Despite those assurances, two Republican lawmakers have filed legislation to consider at the current session that would change the rules again. State Rep. Franklin Foil and Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, both of Baton Rouge, are co-authors of House Bill 529 and Senate Bill 214. The legislation authorizes three local government appointees to serve on the Board of Commerce and Industry who may participate and vote on industrial tax exemption applications proposed in their respective parishes.

Full disclosure: LBP Executive Director Jan Moller is a member of the Board of Commerce & Industry, which helps oversee ITEP.


Number of the Day
114 million – Number of people who would benefit from an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit proposed by three U.S. Senators. This includes 1,846,000 people in Louisiana. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)