The developer of a controversial grain elevator in the historically Black community of Wallace has cut a deal with the Port of South Louisiana to avoid an estimated $209 million in property taxes that could support education and other vital services in St. John the Baptist Parish. Greenfield Louisiana – the company seeking to build a $400 million grain elevator near the historic Whitney Plantation – has agreed to transfer ownership of the land to the port. Instead of paying property taxes that support services throughout the parish, Greenfield would make smaller annual payments to the port. Joy Banner, a descendant of slaves who co-founded the Descendants Project that is fighting the grain elevator, wants the Legislature to intervene. But the Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports that lawmakers are unlikely to meddle in such a local issue:

The Port of South Louisiana is essentially renting out its tax-exempt status in exchange for a fee, she told lawmakers. A port official did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. “We were shocked and horrified to find that Greenfield grain terminal planned to locate its grain operation smack dab in the middle of our small community of Wallace right next to my neighborhood,” she said. Banner said local officials approved the project very quietly with little notice to the public. NPR reported in July 2021 that the St. John Parish Council pledged its support for the project without holding a public meeting to listen to residents’ concerns. 

The issue came up as the House Ways and Means Committee took public testimony this week while wrapping up a series of hearings on the state tax structure. As Muller reports, lawmakers are also reviewing Louisiana’s inventory tax, which is a property tax on inventory that is paid at the local level but mostly reimbursed by the state through a tax credit. St. Charles Parish Assessor Tab Troxler warned that getting rid of the inventory tax – and thus the credit – would result in higher residential property taxes. 

The Louisiana Budget Project’s Jan Moller said he agrees exempting inventories would cause millage rates to spike. But he added it’s wrong to assume lawmakers would have to eliminate the tax in order to eliminate the credit. “Some politicians have decided the inventory tax has to go if the credit goes away, but that is a political decision made by people who don’t want to tell the corporations in their backyard that they should pay a little more in taxes,” Moller said. Instead, lawmakers could eliminate only the credit and leave it to local governments to continue to manage inventory taxes as they see fit, whether that includes keeping, eliminating or adjusting them, he said.

Limiting renewable investments could cost state millions
Efforts by state lawmakers to protect the fossil fuel industry by punishing companies that are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could cost states millions of dollars in additional interest payments, according to a new study from Econsult Solutions of Philadelphia. Researchers focused on how six states, including Louisiana, would fare if they followed the lead of Texas by banning contracts with investment firms that take environmental concerns into consideration. The cost to the Pelican State would be between $51 million and $131 million. States Newsrooms’ Casey Quinlan reports: 

The Wharton study found that Texas paid higher interest rates because of less competition after major banks were forced from the state. Similarly, the Econsult study found that interest costs for its six states could balloon if they underwent Texas-like changes that influenced municipal bonds in addition to state actions. … “That is a burden on every taxpayer — every teacher, every elder citizen in those states,” Rothstein said. “That obviously doesn’t help anyone. It’s just higher interest costs, and that is because of having less bankers being able to bid for that work. That is one of the risks. And in addition, they’re also not going to be considering climate risk.”

Reality check: Last year, the Louisiana State Bond Commission, at the behest of Treasurer John Schroder, pulled nearly $800 million from the investment firm BlackRock because it has been outspoken about moving away from fossil fuels. The commission then ended its 12-year relationship with the state’s financial adviser after its founder criticized Schroders’ recent moves and outlined their negative impacts on state finances. 

Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves
New rules approved this week by U.S. House Republicans make it easier to pass tax cuts that add to the federal budget deficit by easing the requirement that tax cuts have to be offset by revenue increases elsewhere in the budget. However, increases to mandatory spending programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, would need to be offset by cuts to other programs, not any new tax revenue. The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell explains her big takeaways from the new package: 

First is that, if you read between the lines, you’ll learn that even Republicans don’t believe their own long-standing promise that tax cuts will pay for themselves. After all, if the GOP genuinely believed this, they wouldn’t need to make it easier to pass tax cuts that don’t pay for themselves. Because such tax cuts … would not exist. Second is who and what they care about. “This is fundamentally about who pays for what, what are we investing in, and who’s left behind,” said Joel Friedman, a researcher for the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. “It puts up barriers to the type of investments and public services that will help people through health care, education, supporting kids.”

The fight for paid leave 
While the next two years in a divided Congress will be more about political posturing than actually governing, Democrats are not giving up on a policy priority they left on the table after losing their majority: paid family leave. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and 15 of her colleagues in the upper chamber sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to include $547 billion in funding for a 12-week paid leave program in his upcoming 2024 budget. Vox’s Li Zhou reports on the landscape surrounding paid leave on Capitol Hill. 

Vicki Shabo, a fellow at New America and expert on the issue, also notes that the administration could make more concrete policy changes via executive action by requiring federal contractors to offer their workers 12 weeks of paid leave and issuing grants to states to evaluate the impact of these programs. …  In Congress, meanwhile, there’s potential for narrower bills. Gillibrand’s office notes that she’s continuing conversations with Republicans in both the House and the Senate to see if there are areas for bipartisan compromise. A new bipartisan working group in the House is also giving advocates hope that lawmakers could find common ground on changes to the FMLA that would make unpaid leave more generous. 

Number of the Day
$550 – Court fee associated with expungement – a process where a person’s criminal background is erased or sealed – in Louisiana, the highest in the nation. While 550,000 people qualify for expungement in Louisiana, the state’s onerous laws creates barriers for many. (Source: Louisiana Illuminator)