The Legislature backtracks on tax “reform”

The Legislature backtracks on tax “reform”

Louisiana’s gasoline tax has not been raised in more than 30 years and has lost more than half of its purchasing power since 1990. This is the main reason the state faces a $15 billion backlog of transportation needs. Now the Legislature is belatedly proposing to address the problem by shifting $500 million a year in tax revenue that currently supports public schools, health care and other public services into the state transportation trust fund. The tax shift was tacked onto House Bill 514 and proposes to make the “temporary” $0.045 state sales tax enacted in 2018 a permanent part of the state tax structure. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte explains: 

Opponents said while they agree Louisiana needs to spend more on transportation improvements, they disagreed with extending a temporary sales tax to come up with the cash. “We promised people it would roll off,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat. Sen. Joe Bouie, also a New Orleans Democrat, noted sales taxes hit the poor harder than other consumers, because they take a larger share of poor people’s income when they pay the tax. And Louisiana already has the second-highest combined average state and local sales tax rate in the nation at 9.52%, falling behind only Tennessee, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

Paying for roads and bridges on the backs of Black and brown Louisianans and low-income families and not having a plan to make up for the lost revenue that pays for vital services is not tax reform. 

National attention on local pollution
Community activists in St. James Parish have argued for years that the $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics plant proposed for their community would saddle the low-income nearby neighborhoods with toxic pollution while the new factory jobs would mostly go to people from farther away. Their fight has now drawn international attention, including from the United Nations, the Biden administration and a group of attorney generals from states in the Northeast. The Advocate’s David Mitchell reports on a project that’s become a lightning rod for environmentalists across the country. 

Some critics and outside observers say Formosa has become an early test case in a battle over the expansion of plastics production in North America, which some environmentalists see as the next front in the battle with ‘Big Oil.’  And the plant’s sheer size — 14 individual units on nearly 2,400 acres along the Mississippi — has made it a poster child for what a growing progressive movement calls ‘a fight for environmental justice,’ arguing its emissions would have a disparate impact on poor, minority communities. “It’s a real test of the Biden administration and how serious are they are about combating climate change,” said Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, an effort based at Bennington College in Vermont to end plastic pollution.

Lessons from the Tulsa Race Massacre 
You could be forgiven if you had never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre until recently. It took 75 years for the city of Tulsa to recognize one of the worst race riots in American history: a massacre that took the lives of hundreds of Black people and destroyed one of the largest and most prosperous Black communities in the United States. These horrible acts were also left out of students’ history books. The University of Virginia’s Gregory B. Fairchild, writing for the Louisiana Illuminator, says it’s time to learn from this atrocity and right historical wrongs. 

The 1921 Tulsa race riot began on May 31, only weeks before the annual celebration of Juneteenth, which is observed on June 19. As communities across the country begin recognizing Juneteenth and leading corporations move to celebrate it, it’s important to remember the story behind Juneteenth – slaves weren’t informed that they were emancipated. After the celebrations, there’s hard work ahead. From my grandfather’s memory of the riot’s devastation to my own work addressing low-income communities’ economic challenges, I have come to see that change requires harnessing economic, governmental and nonprofit solutions that recognize and speak openly about the significant residential, educational and workplace racial segregation that still exists in the United States today.

Pet projects galore
With Louisiana tax revenues coming in above expectations, lawmakers loaded next year’s state budget with pet projects for their districts. Unfortunately, lawmakers couldn’t find enough money to give teachers a promised pay raise of $1,000 – teachers will receive a $800 raise – or funding for early childhood education. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte explains why it’s so tempting for lawmakers to prioritize parks and sports complexes in their own districts over investments that will benefit the entire state. 

That’s a more than $76 million giveaway to outside groups and local municipalities that have their own tax bases or other financing sources. And the tally doesn’t include millions of dollars for other pet projects that legislators added into a separate construction bill that spends a large surplus. … But the earmarks give lawmakers the ability to go home after session and point to financial wins they gained for their districts, attend groundbreakings for projects they helped fund and take credit for new police cars, road repairs and recreational equipment.

Number of the Day
– Amount that Louisiana’s gas tax has lost in purchasing power since it was last raised in 1984. (Source: The Blanco Public Policy Center via The Advocate)