The Advocate's 3-part series on Louisiana's industrial tax exemption program, "No strings attached," is being recognized as among the best reporting in Louisiana in many years. Links to the series below.
For the online version of each part, click its image below:
Advocate reporter Andrea Gallo called Gary Meise's testimony at the Baton Rouge police chief search hearing "one of the most emotional moments in a long time" at City Hall.
Watch till the end.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
City Hall rally urges Mayor & Council to "keep their word" on grocery gap funding
Monday, November 13th, 4:30pm
Outside City Hall, 222 St. Louis Street
"We believe our officials are sincere in their support. But it’s time we start saying, not just with our words but with our budgets and with our actions, that we value and prioritize addressing food access and economic development in our most neglected neighborhoods.”
Baton Rouge – Together Baton Rouge will hold a rally on Monday, November 13th at 4:30pm at City Hall to urge the Mayor-President and Metropolitan Council to fulfill their commitment to fund an economic development program to attract grocery stores to "grocery gap" neighborhoods.
As candidates during last year's elections, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and a majority of the current Metropolitan Council committed to support city-parish funding for a fresh food financing initiative in the amount of $1.5 million.
The proposed city-parish budget contains zero funding to implement the initiative.
It is the fourth straight year that city officials have given verbal commitment to support the project, but not followed through with funding.
In 2013, the central recommendations of the EBR Food Access Policy Commission was to start a fresh food financing initiative to bring access to healthy food to the parish’s 100,000 residents who live in low food-access areas.
Together Baton Rouge is holding the rally to urge city officials to keep their word and finally get the project off the ground.
“Budgets are statements of a community’s values and priorities,” said Edgar Cage, who helps lead Together Baton Rouge’s food access work.
“We believe our officials are sincere in their support. But it’s time we start saying, not just with our words but with our budgets and with our actions, that we value and prioritize addressing food access and economic development in our most neglected neighborhoods.”
For full details on the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, click here.
EBR Food Access Facts
- Nearly 100,000 residents in East Baton Rouge Parish live in “grocery gap” neighborhoods –about 20% of the parish population.
- The national average of residents food deserts is 7%
- 32,753 of the EBR residents in Grocery Gap neighborhoods are children. 13,282 are seniors.
- The Grocery Gap affects all 12 Metro Council District.
- Lack of access to health foods is directly related to obesity and obesity-related illnesses
- Lack of access to grocery stores increases the cost of food by 7 to 25%, typically in the neighborhoods least able to pay more.
- New Orleans has had a fresh food financing initiative since 2011. It has funded 6 grocery store projects, creating 200 jobs and adding 179,000 sq. ft. of food retail.
- Fresh food financing initiatives are public-private partnerships. Public funds typically leverage 8 to 10 times as much private sector funding.
Note: Together Baton Rouge would not receive any public funds under this initiative. The organization does not accept funds from government sources, period. The funding for a fresh food financing initiative would go as incentives to grocery stores and to a community development finance initiative to administer the program. A budget is included here.
Here's how the Baton Rouge Area Chamber's "matrix" for evaluating industrial tax exemption requests compares to how Texas counties approach the same kinds of tax exemptions.
Click the image to open as a pdf.
Download the full study here.
Why this issue matters now
Since 1936, Louisiana has been the only state in the nation to endow a state-level board with the authority to approve corporate exemptions from local property taxes, without the approval, or even knowledge, of the local entities paying the cost of those exemptions. It’s called the industrial tax exemption program, or ITEP, and it is the largest program of state subsidies to corporations in the nation.
In the current fiscal year, local governments in sixty of Louisiana’s sixty-four parishes are losing $1.9 billion in revenue due to ITEP exemptions. The exemptions affect the budgets of cities, parishes, sheriffs departments, fire districts, libraries, parks — any entity that receives revenue from a local property tax millage. The entities hardest hit by ITEP are Louisiana’s public schools. In 2017, Louisiana’s school districts are losing $720 million in revenue due to ITEP, fully 20% of total state and local funding for public schools.
Due to an Executive Order signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards in June 2016, local school districts, sheriff departments, parishes and cities, for the first time in 80 years, will have the authority to determine for themselves whether to approve industrial tax exemptions and on what terms. The first ITEP applications subject to the Executive Order are going before local bodies over the next several months.
[Download a pdf of the entire study here.]
Baton Rouge -- April Blackburn voted for Bill Cassidy for his 2014 US Senate race. She met Senator Cassidy in person earlier in the year, where he assured her that he only would support a health bill if it assured that "families like hers would be taken care of" and would not "fall through the cracks."
April's three year-old daughter has leukemia. Her chemotherapy costs over $1 million. They are one of the families who could lose coverage from the proposed Medicaid cuts.
As the rubber hit the road on the Senate version of the federal healthcare overhaul, with an outline of the bill finally seeing the light of day this morning, April's worst fears for her family seem all too close at hand.
The hopes that the Senate version of the healthcare bill would be less "cruel" than the House version, to quote President Donald Trump, appear to have been wishful thinking. The bill's overall thrust is very similar to the House version. Its central function is not so much healthcare provision, but a swap of healthcare provision for tax cuts -- the scaling back of federal funds to states to pay for Medicaid, used mostly by poor people, would pay for tax cuts that primarily benefit wealthy, out-of state residents.
Louisiana would be one of the nation's biggest losers in this swap, according to data from the Louisiana Budget Project. The state, after all, has far more people who would lose coverage from Medicaid cuts than it does wealthy residents who would benefit from tax cuts.
April, for one, is fighting back. She worked with Together Baton Rouge to record one of the most powerful testimonies to come out of the health debate -- a simple statement of her family's situation and a challenge to Senator Cassidy to fulfill the commitment he made to her.
Download the study.
The Times Picayune, “Baton Rouge drug arrests disproportionately affect poor, blacks: report”
“We figured we could either sit around and wait for the Department of Justice to make some contribution, or we could start to act for ourselves at the local level,” said Rev. Lee T. Wesley, an Executive Committee member of Together Baton Rouge. “Our first step has been to take a close look at this very important aspect of policing in our community and how it can be improved.”
Inside the effort to win Congressional support for $500 million in flood recovery aid
#1) Wake up in cold sweat realizing what it's going to mean that 80% of your community's flooded homes don’t have flood insurance.
#2) Feel sweat get colder with realization that only path forward is major bi-partisan cooperation by Congress. In September. In the middle of Trump v. Clinton.
#3) Make 250 phone calls. Learn your friends in low places have some friends in high places.
#4) Marvel that members of Congress are not NEARLY as ideological and partisan as they act most of the time. Watch a deal come together where everyone wins.
#5) Watch that deal unravel into smoldering shards and ash. Change your mind on marveling from #4.
#6) Repeat steps #2 to 5.
#7) Resist INSANE temptation to let yourself get pitted against the people of Flint, Mich and their need for lead-free drinking water! (Louisiana supports Flint!!)
#8) Go to the sewer to get some fresh air, mumbling lines from Yates, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
#9) Learn what solidarity means, as people across the country work their own Reps and Senators to benefit people they've never met.
#10) EXHALE, as the Senate votes for you (72 - 26) and the House votes with you (342 - 85). Feel grateful that, sometimes, the center does still hold.
Thank you, America!
Read the official version from Politico here.
TBR and its sister organizations across the country worked hard with Governor Edwards and the Louisiana Congressional Delegation to win federal funding for flood recovery from the 2016 flood.
The video was created to spread awareness nationally.
So far, Congress has allocated $1.8 billion for the recovery.
Interested applications may apply at: togetherbr.nationbuilder.com/jobs
Jobs pay $15 per hour for house-gutting and mold-remediation, starting with highest priority families -- elderly, disabled and families with children, especially those still living in mold-infected homes
Program funded with support from BRAF, individual donors.
Donations to expand the program may be made here.
A week after the Great Flood, TBR leaders were grappling with how to expand capacity to meet the daunting scale of the devastation of their community, when we got an email with a “crazy idea” from a 70-year old woman in Cape Cod named Betsy Smith, who had been directed to the organization by the local NPR affiliate.
"Rather than just donate money,” Ms. Smith wrote in her email, “I would like to donate $120 to pay an unemployed person $15/hour for an 8-hour day's work helping with the clean-up effort. This would have a multiple effect--it would supply labor for the clean-up, it would put money into the economy in the form of wages for someone who is currently unemployed, and it might encourage others to give to a specified, dedicated fund."
Ten days later, Ms. Smith's "crazy idea" is becoming a reality.