While Louisiana’s combined sales tax is among the highest in the country, the state constitution protects low-income consumers by exempting basic necessities from the state portion of the tax. The exemption applies to groceries, prescription drugs and home utilities. But the male-dominated Legislature left out some important necessities when they wrote that constitutional provision: feminine hygiene products and diapers. Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans has been trying for years to change that. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace reports:
We’re not talking about tons of money here in lost revenue — just an estimated $10 million a year, although Morrell conceded that it could be higher. That won’t make or break the state budget, and the incremental tax won’t make or break most family budgets. For those who live close the margins, though, it could make a difference. And that’s why the proposal should be taken seriously, and why it’s good news that lawmakers seem to be ready to do that. It’s a rare day when the Louisiana Legislature sees fit to ease the burden on those who need it most. … Now that the fiscal cliff is finally averted, the state Senate has decided that the tampon tax cut may be a good thing. Morrell got nowhere in previous attempts to pass it, and it almost died Wednesday when senators didn’t muster the two-thirds support needed to put it on a statewide ballot. But Morrell amended the measure to make it a statutory rather than a constitutional change, which meant it only needed a simple majority. The Senate then voted 29-5 to send it to the House.
Only 15.3% of our state’s legislators are women, the fourth lowest proportion in the nation.
Sheriffs cash in on immigration crackdown
After years as the world’s leader in per-capita incarceration, Louisiana has begun a turnaround: Landmark reforms passed by the Legislature in 2017 are driving down the state’s prison population. Now, rural sheriffs that have found a way to fill the empty beds. As Maria Clark at Nola.com/The Times-Picayune reports, Louisiana has become a national leader in housing federal immigration detainees. In the last six months, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) contracted with local correctional facilities for 2,500 new beds. This windfall for sheriffs turns out to be a bargain for the federal government, which pays a national average of $126.52 per day to house an immigrant.
Housing detainees can be a significant source of cash for local authorities and municipalities. The Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Office stands to make $64.07 per detainee per day, or up to $64,070 per day total, if I.C.E. uses its full capacity of 1,000 beds at Jackson Parish Correctional Center, according to a contract signed in March. The daily rate at LaSalle Detention Center in Jena is $75 for up to 416 detainees and $45 per day for 417 to 1,160 detainees. So, if the occupancy of the facility for a single day is 916 detainees, the LaSalle Economic Development District with the town of Jena nearby earns $53,700 daily, according to their contract with I.C.E.
Despite population decreases, Louisiana sheriffs have asked for a $25.8 million increase to pay for housing inmates in local jails. But the $30 billion state operating budget that cleared the House on Thursday does not include additional new money for housing inmates.
The rent is too damn high
Low-income Louisianans are more likely than their wealthier peers to live in rental housing. With rents in New Orleans up 50% since Hurricane Katrina, two-thirds of the city’s renter households (67%) pay more than 30% of their income toward housing costs, leaving them with less for other necessities like feeding their families, paying off their car note and keeping food on the table. Research shows the clear link to housing costs and its role in income inequality. Ryan Quirty interviewed Igor Popov in Louisiana Weekly about the increasing income inequality between poor and rich due to housing costs, and what can be done to reduce gaps:
The Crescent City has experienced the largest increase in the gap between the rich and poor, Popov found – over the last decade, quantifiable income inequality has spiked by a whopping 44 percent. “We found that income inequality grew faster in New Orleans than in any other large metro over the past decade,” Popov told The Louisiana Weekly. “Moreover, low-earners in New Orleans struggle with affordability in particular,” he added in an email interview. “For those in the bottom quarter of the income distribution living in New Orleans, their incomes are 75 percent lower than the median but their housing costs are only 25 percent lower. More housing, both subsidized and market rate, would certainly help because housing options for low-income residents is in very short supply.”
Senate Bill 28 by Sen. Ed Price would have established a 10 day grace period for late payments before a landlord could begin eviction proceedings. The bill was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 7, leaving in place Louisiana’s status quo: landlords can boot tenants from their home when they are one day late and one dollar short.
Predictability vs. certainty on ITEP
The unelected state Board of Commerce and Industry (full disclosure: LBP Director Jan Moller is a member) has worked for nearly three years to implement rules for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program that give local authorities some control over how their tax dollars are used while still giving manufacturing corporations a generous tax break. But industry leaders still aren’t happy, and are backing several legislative instruments that would strip away some of that local control. The Advocate’s editorial board puts things in perspective:
Can the oil-and-gas leash pull lawmakers back in the legislative session of an election year? Apparently not, as bills challenging Edwards’ decision have faltered. We agree with the industry that a predictable process is good for business recruitment. But industry critics are right that locals ought to have a say in huge reductions in their property tax income. Small businesses don’t get those kinds of breaks. If the industry wants not predictability but certainty — what they had for decades under the old process — that can only be achieved by a local “approval” that is overwhelmingly dominated by state officials, as often as not unelected appointees of the governor — and many of them nominated by industry. That’s not draining the swamp, by any stretch.
Number of the Day
10 – Number of victims of sexual and domestic violence jailed against their will in 2016 and 2017 by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. (Source: Court Watch NOLA, via The Advocate)