Federal aid is crucial for Louisiana’s recovery

Federal aid is crucial for Louisiana’s recovery

Louisiana’s oil-and-tourism economy is slowly recovering from the Covid-19 recession, but our state’s unemployment rate continues to be higher than neighboring states with more diverse economies. As Louisiana workers continue to search for jobs – while others stay out of the workforce to care for children or themselves – business lobbyists are pushing Gov. John Bel Edwards to refuse the $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits that is helping hundreds of thousands of families make ends meet. Other Southern governors have turned their back on the assistance, based on ideological arguments with no backing in data. As Melinda Deslatte reports for the AP, Edwards is (so far) resisting the calls. 

The extra $300 per week in federal assistance, available until September, comes on top of state unemployment benefits that max out at $247 a week in Louisiana. While the business groups believe the extra federal jobless benefit is discouraging some people from taking jobs, government surveys also show people are reluctant to look for work because they fear contracting COVID-19. In addition, other groups say many women have dropped out of the workforce to care for children and some people are searching for higher paying jobs with benefits. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute argued in a recent commentary that policymakers shouldn’t rein in the unemployment benefits. 

Tax swap stalls in the House
An ambitious effort to overhaul Louisiana’s income-tax structure met with mixed results on Wednesday in the House, which advanced one bill while a companion measure fell four votes shy of the two-thirds supermajority needed for passage. The package of bills by Rep. Stuart Bishop would eliminate Louisiana’s federal income tax (FIT) deduction – a good thing – in exchange for lowering income-tax rates across the board. An amendment added on the floor would ensure that any potential revenue gains from the tax swap would be used to give additional tax breaks instead of making needed investments in things like teacher pay.  The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges has the story.

Under a “trigger” added by Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, the tax rates would drop further if after 2025 tax revenues exceeded projections. Wright said it was modeled after what North Carolina has done. The tax swap has had the support of National Federation of Independent Business, the Public Affairs Research Council and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Jan Moller, executive director of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, has praised the measure for simplifying the tax code but has said he couldn’t support it because it didn’t raise more revenue and didn’t address the inequity of a regressive tax system that makes poor people pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than it does the wealthy.

A better idea is for legislators to carve out room in the tax code for a new Child Tax Credit to help families cope with the cost of raising young children. Bishop told reporters that he plans to bring up his House Bill 274 for a second vote this afternoon. 

Waving off conflicts of interest for rich companies
There is compelling evidence that the underground aquifer that supplies drinking water for Baton Rouge is in trouble. But the Capitol Area Groundwater Conservation Commission, which regulates use of that resource, has failed to take action. That may be because five of the commission’s members are paid by some of the heaviest users of the city’s water source. According to the state’s ethics board this arrangement is a clear conflict of interest, but as the Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains, the House is close to approving a bill by state Sen. Bodi White that would clear the way for corporations to appoint their employees to water boards throughout the state.

White drafted the bill in response to the Louisiana Board of Ethics charging five members of the Capital Area Groundwater Commission — which manages the groundwater in the Baton Rouge region — with ethics violations. The five members are employees of ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific, Entergy and the Baton Rouge Water Company, all of which extract water from the Southern Hills Aquifer System to help with their industrial operations. “The industries we are talking about are the biggest taxpayers in this parish,” said White, arguing in favor of keeping the industry employees on the board. The state ethics board believes the commissioners’ jobs might present a conflict of interest that runs afoul of state ethics laws.

Police brutality in Union Parish
In 2019, Louisiana state troopers told the family of Roland Greene, a West Monroe barber,  that he died after a crash following a high-speed chase. On Wednesday, more than a year after Greene’s death, the Associated Press released body camera footage of police tasing and beating Greene as they put him under arrest. In the footage, Greene appears uninjured as he gets out of his car. As Michael Levenson of the New York Times reports, while the FBI and other federal agencies investigate Greene’s death, the Louisiana State Police have criticized the release of the arrest footage.

“I’m scared!” Mr. Greene screamed, according to the video. “I’m your brother! I’m scared!” According to The A.P., which said it had obtained 46 minutes of video footage from the encounter, one trooper wrestled Mr. Greene to the ground, put him in a chokehold and punched him in the face. Another trooper briefly dragged him by his ankle shackles as he lay on the ground, according to the footage. Mr. Greene was jolted again with a stun gun while he was on the ground and handcuffed, the footage shows. The A.P. reported that the troopers, who were white, left Mr. Greene, who was Black, facedown and moaning for more than nine minutes, as they wiped blood from their hands and face.

Earned Income Tax Credit Video
This legislative session, our state representatives have the opportunity to invest in Louisiana families by strengthening our Earned Income Tax Credit. A small investment can travel a long way. Watch our new video to find out how the EITC can benefit your community. 

Number of the Day
$1.3 billion – Amount that 14 large corporations received in dubious tax breaks this year because the IRS failed to investigate their returns before the statute of limitations expired. Cuts to the IRS budget have led to lax enforcement for wealthy taxpayers in recent years. (Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy)