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Landry implements crucially-good ITEP reforms

Given the bad hand Louisiana’s Constitution dealt him, Republican Gov. Jeff Landry did his best and largely successfully to fix problems created in the past few years with the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program.

ITEP reflects a constitutional power defined by the mostly gubernatorial-appointed Board of Commerce and Industry and the Department of Economic Development which allows it to exempt manufacturing firms from property taxes from value added to property used for discrete projects that create new or expand operations. However, the Constitution vests the final power in the hand of the governor whether to approve whatever emerges, so he can create the conditions for acceptance through an executive order, in essence saying that unless requests forwarded to him meet standards he articulates, he won’t approve these.

Historically, such supervision was minimal, leading to almost any project within the constitutional boundaries meeting approval, until Landry’s predecessor Democrat John Bel Edwards radically changed the rules, and for the worse. Understanding the negative impact begins with acknowledging that ITEP exists because of Louisiana’s confiscatory property tax rates insofar as these apply to business.


Changes only can improve LA public defense

Opposition to changing governance of Louisiana’s indigent defense from an appointed board to a gubernatorial designee generated more heat than light and shouldn’t derail an improvement to a system as yet never quite fixed.

SB 8 by Republican state Sen. Mike Reese may end up the most controversial bill of the Legislature’s Second Extraordinary Session of 2024. Its initial hearing dragged on for hours with support voiced for it by State Public Defender Remy Starns and a few others, but most of the time was taken by opponents, many connected to public defense.

The bill would remove the Louisiana Public Defender Board from policy-making, leaving only an advisory role, transferring that to the public defender. Rather than he be an appointee of the Board, the governor with Senate confirmation would make the appointment, for two years. This would put contracting and chief district defender hiring solely in the hands of the public defender, among other things, rather than by the Board which currently has five gubernatorial appointees (from each appellate district), four from the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and one each from the leaders of each state legislative chamber, serving overlapping four-year terms.


Data point to Summer EBT as unneeded in LA

Louisiana’s political left has a full-court press on to try to score political points over the Republican Gov. Jeff Landry Administration decision not to dole out more cash to lower-income households with children – all the while ignoring data that supports that decision.

Liberal politicians and special interests have criticized the choice not to participate in the Summer EBT program, which gives cash benefits of $40 a school-aged child for three months in the summer. It’s estimated that it would have shoveled $71 million to state families out of federal monies.

Of course, that attitude acts as if this is free money, when in fact Louisiana taxpayers will bear the costs through their federal taxes, an increase in federal debt that they eventually will have to pay back with interest, and/or with a reduction in services elsewhere. Further, plenty of other programs exist to address food needs, including a couple geared specifically toward school children in the summer that operate far more efficiently than the Summer EBT design, as well as more general programs that cover the same clientele base, principally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that in Louisiana pays a family of two $535 a month.


Over execution, Hollywood may help LA save cash

As with most candidates for governor last year, the winner Republican Gov. Jeff Landry disappointed on the issue of Louisiana’s Motion Picture Investors tax credit, but maybe he’s hit on a less-direct way to skin a cat over the issue of expanding capital punishment options.

The film tax credit is notorious for its waste of taxpayer dollars, costing the state typically hundreds of millions of dollars annually with only a fraction returning to the treasury in the form of income taxes on those employed in production, sales taxes for good related to filming, and the like. It functions as a form of corporate welfare, which largely goes into the pockets of out-of-state interests, that no other industry in the state enjoys to that degree. The latest, most optimistic statistics available show it returns 23 cents on the dollar while costing $13,300 for each job, mostly part-time, “created.”

Gubernatorial candidates, if anything, with the exception of GOP ex-state Rep. Richard Nelson, campaigned in favor of the giveaway. That included Landry, even though his ally now Speaker of the House Republican Phillip DeVillier had tried to amend the legislation last year to extend the program to gradually wean the state off it.


Tax fatigued voters may doom Bossier renewal

In April, most Bossier City residents will be solicited to slap upon themselves again a large amount of property taxes, and to a smaller degree parish residents outside of municipalities face the same. As a result, chances are good that at least some portion of current taxes will be rejected.

All of Bossier City, Bossier Parish, and the majority part of both encapsulated in the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District have cued up property tax renewals on the Apr. 27 ballot. The State Bond Commission last week approved for the date a pair of city levies for 8.32 and 2.71 mils for public safety, the parish levy 7.43 mils for the library system, and the district levy of 1.54 for general operations and capital outlay.

The four are for ten years, although the district’s starts in 2025 while the other two wouldn’t renew until 2026. If all were approved, city property owners with a $225,000 primary residential property within the district boundaries would reestablish onto themselves $350.88 annually in property taxes; those not in the boundaries would add back $327.78; and outside a municipality in the district would sign on again to $134.55, and those only in the parish would re-up to $111.45. (Parish Administrator Butch Ford’s shack, which permits him to evade legal prohibition against his employment, is valued so low, below the homestead exemption, that his taxes paid won’t change regardless of the outcome of the parish and district votes.)

Citizens within and among these various jurisdictions have reason for skepticism in renewing these taxes. In the case of Bossier City, it would be general profligate spending, in part on luxuries that serve few citizens such as maintaining tennis courts for a private sector operator that hardly any city residents use; high-dollar recreation facilities residents are discouraged, if not prohibited, from using; and huge capital outlay projects that have low overall value such as the duplicative Walter O. Bigby Carriageway.

This has put the city into a debt bind. At the end of 2022, it had $434.5 million in debt, with this declining slowly over the past couple of years. With an estimated mid-2022 population of 62,971, that left it at $6,900 per capita, or in terms of government activities (excluding enterprise activities, in this instance the city-run water and sewerage system) $3,400 per capita. These are the highest levels of any major city in Louisiana, which in part explains why the two major investment services rank the quality of its debt as only in the third-highest and fourth-highest categories (high quality with low credit risk, but with some susceptibility to long-term risks).

Having frittered away dollars on nonessential, if not questionable, items has had consequences such as government activities long-term debt interest of about $9 million paid out (its business activities also cost another $5 million in interest) in 2022 that just a portion of which if freed could back things like firefighter pensions or pay raises for city employees, particularly in public safety. Ironically, adequate funding of public safety is the issue that probably won’t lead to a citizens’ revolt at the ballot box on city millages because those address public safety, as city fathers decades ago clearly must have envisioned since they cleverly tied these levies explicitly to the most important function local government can have.

That fact will discourage citizens from voting down the items in order to teach a lesson to the likes of City Council graybeards Republicans David Montgomery and Jeff Free, Democrat Bubba Williams, and no party Jeff Darby who oversaw the fiscal mismanagement over recent decades. After all, even as graybeard actions have precluded better pay for public safety, removing the millages would mean no pay and no job for many first responders.

A bit more vulnerable is the parish levy, not only because library operations aren’t nearly as central to parish citizens’ lives – likely the majority of them, aside from early voting, never have set foot in or connected to the Internet sites of Bossier Parish Libraries – but also as the parish’s Police Jury has engaged in a series of legally questionable, if not outright illegal, acts in regards to the library. In particular:

  • It has had jurors serve on the Library Board of Control since 2016. State law is somewhat ambiguous about the legality of this practice – in fact, Bossier is the only parish for which information is readily available on the web that does this – but an attorney general’s opinion on that question soon will be released.
  • At one point, it appointed Ford as head of libraries on an interim basis for several months, which unambiguously broke the law as he did not under state statute have the proper qualifications.
  • Most recently, it appointed all 12 jurors to the Board. Even as it appears they will meet in a kind of rotation fashion, that violates state statute that limits membership to as many as seven parish residents.
  • And, even as some jurors allege they needed to take over the Board because of problems they refuse to specify were endemic to the library system that only they could solve – which rings entirely hollow since jurors were board members for many years before making the board an all-juror affair – if one of those problems was unsupervised availability of graphic materials to children, the problem continues.

These kinds of shenanigans might induce the electorate to pull the plug on library funding, which would still leave around 100 mils of taxation for the parish that could be reallocated for library purposes if so desired. Still, the magnitude of the money that would disappear, as well as arguments that the library does serve school children and others, likely will save the day for this renewal.

None of that applies to the district levy. Few parish residents use the park (and have to pay to get in) yet most get taxed for it, and many of the few hundred property owners to which it is highly relevant since it foists land use controls upon them who pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year to it depending upon the activities in which they engage are nonplussed at it. The latter especially have had to endure years of evasive and opaque management accentuated by a series of questionable decisions by its Board of Commissioners and its recently-departed member and (illegally employed) executive director Robert Berry, from favoritism to elected officials who appoint them to resisting accountability to wasting tens of thousands of dollars in fruitless legal expenses and more on grandiose, unrealistic plans (which the renewal still advocates, as it in part would be dedicated to operating a zoo the conceptualization and intentions of which have been thoroughly botched).

That and the size of the millage and the election date conspire to put this renewal in real jeopardy. Already asked to approve about 20 mils, voters might think they can afford to drop 7.5 percent of it that they would see the 1.54 mils as not being missed, even as that comprises over half of park revenues for 2022. And while the election date helps the other levies’ chances of renewal, because as very likely these four items will complete the ballot’s entirety which will disproportionately attract to the polls the beneficiaries and families and friends of most of the items (i.e., Bossier City public safety employees and Bossier Parish library employees) in favor of these, with close to zero direct beneficiaries of the district more than offset by a number of disgruntled landowners, this hurts the chances of that millage passing (although it could get another shot later in the year if this failed).

Commissioners seem to recognize this and have been trying to engage landowners in a public relations campaign to improve their image. They may need to extend that to the public, who will see their ballots asking for taxes for something most never have heard of, and of those who have many will have heard negative things, that would seem easy for government to do without. Of course, a large PR campaign will cost money of which the district has none, being in the hole $92,650 which would have been nearly three times as much at the end of 2022 if not for an unspecified one-time insurance payout that year.

While each of the three entities smartly asked for renewing at the current millages being paid rather that at the higher amounts that the measures originally authorized, that may not save the District’s request from tax-fatigued voters. Rejection of that would send a signal to the District at present as well as to Bossier City and the Parish for the future that voters will take only so much misrule before they start casting retribution.