ITEP reforms are working

ITEP reforms are working

Manufacturing corporations in Louisiana are paying an additional $262 million in local property taxes each year to support public schools, parks, police protection and other services thanks to reforms that gave local governments more control over generous industrial tax exemptions. The data from Together Louisiana comes as lawmakers get set to debate whether the changes ordered by Gov. John Bel Edwards to Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) should be enshrined in the state constitution or left to the whim of the next governor. Sen. Rogers Pope, a former teacher and school administrator, has filed Senate Bill 151, which has support from the powerful state sheriffs, school boards and the Louisiana Municipal Association. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports that lobbyists for big corporations are opposed to local governments having some control of their own tax revenue.

[Together Louisiana’s Stephanie] Riegel also noted that local governments are still approving the vast majority of ITEP requests. “They want investments in their community,” she said. “In most cases they willingly grant these (exemptions). But they really like receiving that 20% up front and having a seat at the table. I think that’s the least they deserve.” Pope’s bill would require companies to get approval from local taxing authorities before getting the exemptions, and would limit the tax breaks to an 80% exemption over 10 years, including a 5-year renewal period. The bill also bans exemptions for things like required environmental upgrades and requires job creation, language that mirrors the current system.

Business lobbyist Jim Patterson, without a hint of irony, told the newspaper that Louisiana needs to have America’s most generous tax-giveaway program because the state suffers from a lack of educated workers and strong infrastructure that other states use to attract investment. 

They are children
At the Acadiana Center for Youth, a state-run youth detention center in St. Martinville, Louisiana children were confined for weeks in locked cells, receiving little human contact, no education, and in many cases little to no court-mandated counseling, according to a new report by Annie Waldman of ProPublica, Beth Schwartzapfel of The Marshall Project and Erin Einhorn of NBC News. The report documents conditions that advocates characterize as “child abuse.”

Though Louisiana policy considers solitary confinement for youths a rare last resort and many other states have placed strict limits on it because of the psychological harm it causes, teens in this facility, some with serious mental illness, were locked alone in their cells for at least 23 hours a day for weeks on end. They were shackled with handcuffs and leg irons when let out to shower, and they were given little more than meals slid through slots in their doors. Some teens took those brief moments of human contact to fling their feces and urine at the guards. At least two of the teens in the facility harmed themselves so badly that they required medical attention. Some destroyed beds and shattered light fixtures, using the metal shards to hack holes in the cinder block walls large enough for them to escape.

House Bill 746, pre-filed by Rep. Royce Duplessis, would significantly restrict the use of solitary confinement in Louisiana’s juvenile lock-ups.

Medicaid access improved during Covid
When the pandemic hit, analysts predicted that up to 30 million American workers and their dependents would lose health coverage as their workplaces shut down, with people with low-incomes and people of color disproportionately harmed. But thanks to swift and effective federal action, health coverage improved in America over the pandemic, with public options picking up the slack when employer-provided coverage disappeared. Gideon Lukens, Jennifer Sullivan and Farah Erzouki of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explain:

In large part, health coverage did not decline — and may even have risen — thanks to relief legislation and other policies enacted during the pandemic. … Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollment grew by 13.6 million, from 71.2 million in February 2020 to a historic high of 84.8 million in September 2021. … (A)lthough declines in employer coverage were concentrated among adults with low and moderate incomes, these declines were more than offset by increases in public coverage among this population.

As Matthew Buettgens and Andrew Green of the Urban Institute caution, states will have to disenroll millions of people from public coverage when the federal Public Health Emergency ends. How states approach that challenge will greatly affect people’s ability to get medical care:

A growing body of evidence finds that Medicaid coverage saves lives and increases families’ financial stability. … Large-scale, rapid Medicaid disenrollment during a time when families will still be trying to deal with the pandemic’s health and economic consequences could have serious effects on the health and financial well-being of millions of people. … We estimate that one-third of adults and nearly one-tenth of children who will lose Medicaid are eligible for Marketplace tax credits in 2022. Coordination between state Medicaid agencies and the Marketplaces is essential to minimize the number of people who become uninsured after losing Medicaid coverage.

More hurdles for school cafeterias
For kids who rely on school meals to help meet their nutritional needs—and for the cafeteria workers who feed them—the pandemic posed many challenges. Federal waivers were a key part of America’s response, allowing schools to serve grab and go meals and providing additional money to help deal with the supply chain and logistical challenges of serving hungry kids during the pandemic. But now, while most schools are back in person, cafeterias continue to face higher food costs, ingredient shortages and low staffing, those waivers may be on the way out, after Senate Republican leadership opposed their inclusion in the budget package that President Biden is expected to sign into law. Chalkbeat’s Kalyn Belsha explains how school nutritionists might face serious challenges without those flexibilities.

Many schools expect to face higher school meal program costs, food supply issues, and labor shortages through the summer and into next school year, though, the recent federal report found. When the waivers expire, schools will also again face financial penalties if they can’t meet the usual national nutrition standards, which can happen when schools have to substitute food items if an order gets canceled or arrives without certain ingredients. Nearly nine in 10 school food programs that responded to the federal survey this fall reported that they’d made such substitutions.

Invest in the Future of Louisiana
The stakes are high as the Legislature kicks off its annual session next week. Our lawmakers have an unprecedented $3 billion in surplus funds available for new investments. They can use this money to prioritize the communities hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic; or they can repeat the mistakes of the past with tax giveaways and slush funds for corporations. The Louisiana Budget Project will be there, every day, to educate and advocate for policy changes that benefit low-income communities; for racial and economic justice; and for a more inclusive economy. But we cannot do this work alone. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift to LBP. With your help we can set a policy agenda in Baton Rouge that leads to a future of shared prosperity and widespread economic growth.

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Number of the Day
$262 million – Increase in property tax collections by Louisiana’s local government entities since 2016, when Gov. John Bel Edwards gave local authorities more control over industrial tax exemptions (Source: Together Louisiana, via The Advocate)