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Archive for the ‘Exemptions, Incentives’ Category

Sean Morrison is fighting a tough battle in one of the reddest of a decidedly red state’s parishes. But he doesn’t make any apologies for his positions and he stands ready to take the fight to the special interests.

Morrison says he is not beholden to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) or any other special interest group in his quest to fill the unexpired term of District 90 State Rep. Greg Cromer who resigned to become mayor of Slidell on July 1.

In fact, Morrison, chairman of the St. Tammany Democratic Parish Executive Committee, took the rather unusual step of releasing a copy of LABI’s candidate QUESTIONNAIRE, the answers to which are virtually certain to keep him from getting the organization’s seal of approval—which is fine with him.

The survey, he said, “asked candidates to oppose policies that are good for working families like workplace fairness, job safety protections, access to justice for all Louisianans in our courts, access to high quality healthcare, promoting wage fairness, and an ongoing review of Louisiana’s billions in corporate tax giveaways.”

He said, “We need leaders in Baton Rouge who aren’t already influenced before they get there. I’m promising this: to fight hard to do what is right under the circumstances every single time,” Morrison said.

Born in Missouri, he grew up in Texas and moved around a lot as a child. From small towns like Egan, Louisiana, to Stillwater, Oklahoma, Sean saw all aspects of American life. His father, Michael, has worked in the oil and gas industry his entire career. His mother, Christy, is a school teacher in Houston.

Morrison studied political science, psychology, and philosophy at Tulane. He graduated with honors from Case Western Reserve Law School with a focus on international law and war crimes. He went to law school with one goal – to prosecute war criminals. Case Western Reserve had just the program, so Sean packed a U-Haul and drove it all the way from New Orleans to Cleveland. The gambit paid off. For six months he worked with the prosecution for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the aftermath of their brutal civil war.

Following law school, he got a job working with a large Cleveland law firm. One morning he woke up and saw his whole future laid out before him. It was full of billable hours, corporate meetings, and Cleveland winters. So, he hopped on a plane to American Samoa and became a criminal prosecutor there. It was not long until the island was hit with a devastating tsunami. He immediately transferred to the Department of Commerce, where he worked on rebuilding the community, revitalizing its broken economy, and planning to prevent future disasters. “It was there that I learned that serving people through government was the most rewarding work anyone could do,” he says.

When he returned, he began working to conserve the Gulf Coast, it’s beaches, wetlands, and fisheries for future generations. He entered the job in the wake of scandal, as the Executive Director and others were jailed for corruption. As part of the new team, Sean helped reorganize the department, put in place new legal and fiscal systems, and rebuilt the reputation so that today the Department of Marine Resources is considered the gold standard of government in Mississippi (though Louisianans, after eight years of Bobby Jindal, are leery of anything bearing the label “gold standard”).

“I have dedicated my career to helping people through public service,” he says. “I have seen how the government is supposed to operate, and what gets in the way. Too often it is the legislators enacting laws that make it impossible to provide decent service to the people. As more and more politicians claim that there’s nothing to be done (and then set about proving it), I’ve come to know that all we need is public servants willing to roll up their sleeves, stop playing politics, and start doing the hard work of government. I have that experience and I can get the job done.”

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Legislators and leaders of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) would do well to pay attention to the rumblings of discontent that began in West Virginia and rolled westward into Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Those same rumblings, though faint and indistinct for now, are being picked up by those in tune with the times.

Louisiana’s public school teachers, a group to whom I owe so very much from a personal perspective and to whom I shall ever remain loyal, are quietly receiving copies of a “Teacher Salary Satisfaction Survey” being distributed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

It could just as easily be called a “Teacher Salary Dissatisfaction Survey.

The flier opens with the question: “What are you willing to do for a pay raise?” and goes on to note that education funding in Louisiana “has been frozen for the past decade. Our teacher salaries are now about $2,000 below the Southern regional average.”

How can that possibly be? How could we have allowed ourselves to neglect the most dedicated, the most heroic among us for so very long?

We gave state police huge salary increases and while I don’t begrudge their pay increases, they certainly should not have come at the expense of teacher salaries.

Teachers should never have to bow down at the sacrificial altar of political servitude, yet that is precisely what has happened.

I can still remember that little presidential wannabe Bobby Jindal telling LABI that the only reason some teachers are still in the classroom was by virtue of their being able to breathe. That was just before Sandy Hook when a teacher stood between a gunman and a student and took a bullet that ended her breathing ability but which allowed a child to go on living.

I still remember teachers at Ruston High School taking an interest in the well-concealed abilities of a poverty-stricken, less-than-mediocre student and nurturing and cultivating those latent talents into eventual college material and a career in journalism. They didn’t have to do that; they could have let him slip through the cracks. But they didn’t. Thanks, Mrs. Garrett, Miss Lewis, Miss Hinton, Mr. Ryland, Coach Perkins, Mr. Peoples, Mr. Barnes. Thanks so very much. You never knew (or maybe you did) what your compassion meant to that kid.

“Another budget crisis is looming, and yet our legislature has taken no steps to avert it,” the flier says.

True. So true. The legislature has taken no steps because legislators, for the most part, are in bed with the special interests who are slowly bleeding this state to death with overly-generous tax breaks even as benefits are being ripped from our citizens. Benefits like health care, education, decent roads and bridges, flood control, the environment—benefits that we rely on our elected officials to provide.

Oh, but they haven’t forgotten the tax breaks for the Saints, the Pelicans, the Walmarts, the Exxons, the Dow Chemicals, pharmaceuticals, the movie industry, the utilities, the banks and payday loan companies, the nursing homes, the private prisons, the Koch brothers, the Grover Norquists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), or chicken-plucking plants.

But teachers? Nope. They don’t need raises. Besides, we have virtual academies and charter schools, so who needs public education?

“In some states,” the flier reads, “teachers and school employees have acted to demand pay raises and better funding for schools. Actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky had positive results for educators.”

LABI, of course, would beg to differ. After all, LABI was created back in the 1970s for the express purpose of destroying labor unions in Louisiana through passage of the right to work law. I got that straight from the mouth of Ed Steimel, one of the moving forces for the creation of LABI, shortly before his death.

But let’s back up a minute and pause for reflection before you try to label me as some ranting liberal or even worse, a (gasp) communist.

Do you approve of:

  • Your annual two-week (or whatever the length of time) vacation?
  • How about the eight-hour work day?
  • The 40-hour work week?
  • Overtime?
  • Retirement?
  • Minimum wage?
  • Health benefits?
  • The abolition of sweat shops where children as young as seven or eight are required to work 12- or 14-hour days for pennies?
  • Workplace safety reforms that have drastically reduced injuries and deaths at work?
  • Sanitation laws that have cleaned up the meatpacking industry?

Well, gee, if you approve of all that, you must be a ranting liberal yourself. Or worse, a (nah, better not say it).

But just who do you think brought about those reforms? It certainly wasn’t management. Okay, the guvmint was largely responsible for the meatpacking industry reforms but for the rest, you can tip your hat to organized labor.

“Please complete the Teacher Salary Satisfaction Survey,” the flier reads. “Let the Louisiana Federation of Teachers know what you think about salaries in our state, and what you think will help correct the situation.”

The second page is an authorization form requesting the local school board (in this case, Livingston Parish) to deduct dues for the LFT.

Legislators and LABI are being taken to class here and they’d be wise to pay attention lest they get a failing grade.

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In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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Legislators, like any member of society, can be incredibly stupid when they set their minds to it, as they all too often do.

But a story by Baton Rouge  ADVOCATE reporter Elizabeth Crisp, excerpted from a Washington Post column by writer Catherine Rampell, establishes a new low for stupidity, intolerance, and a propensity for shooting off at the mouth, the facts be damned.

Now let it be established here and now that I am a military veteran and that I stand and face the flag every time the National Anthem is played or sung at a public event, no matter how badly a singer may be singing his or her interpretation of the Star-Spangled Banner (and believe me, I’ve heard some incredibly bad renditions). I don’t care if I’m at the concession stand outside Alex Box Stadium for an LSU baseball game, when the PA announcer asks the fans to stand for the National Anthem, I stop what I’m doing, remove my LSU or Boston Red Sox cap, and hold it over my heart in my right hand until the song is finished. No big deal, just something I do.

Why don’t I take a stand? Well, I do. I stand for the anthem and I respect those who choose, for whatever reason, not to. That’s because this is still America where freedom of expression is guaranteed in the First Amendment and every person in that ball park has that right, whether I happen to agree with them or not.

For that matter, how is taking a knee any less respectful than those who continue to talk or who refuse to remove their caps during the anthem? And believe me, there are literally dozens all around me who (a) continue with their concession stand purchases, (b) continue talking, or (c) do not remove their caps/hats. Taking a knee is an act of protest. Any one of the other three is indifference and just as disrespectful in its own way.

So, please, don’t waste my time telling me how unpatriotic it is.

But back to Elizabeth Crisp’s recap of the Washington Post column which, as the Saints stumble into the playoffs and LSU prepares to meet Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, is more than a little timely:

According to Post writer Rampell, a group of Louisiana legislators (much to their relief, LSU has refused to divulge their names, thus saving them considerable embarrassment) got their shorts in a wad and called LSU President F. King Alexander just before football season to threaten additional cuts to the higher-ed appropriations if any player took a knee in protest during the playing of the National Anthem before any LSU games.

King had to find a tactful way to remind the dumb-asses that LSU players remain in the locker room during the anthem and are not even on the field. If the legislators had ever used their free tickets to attend a game, they should have realized that.

Not that this is really relevant to this particular issue, but those brain-dead legislators apparently forgot how they kowtowed to Bobby Jindal and slashed higher-ed funding year after year for a cumulative 43 percent reduction in funding since 2008. Apparently, they had no problem taking a knee before Jindal so they could kiss his ring. And make no mistake, they are every bit as complicit as Jindal for the fiscal morass the state finds itself in today.

Interim Vice President of communications Jason Droddy told Crisp last Friday, “I can confirm the phone call occurred, but we won’t name the person, as that was an unfortunate comment that is better left in the past. We hope that in the future, LSU’s state appropriations will be tied to its performance in the classrooms and laboratories and its economic contributions to our state.”

It should also be hoped that in the future, legislators won’t be afflicted with diarrhea of the mouth just for the benefit of political grandstanding, but don’t bet the farm on that happening. Politicians, by their very nature, are grandstanding, running-off-at-the-mouth self-promoters who seldom let facts stand in the way of political expediency.

State Rep. Kenny Havard, for instance, wanted to pull state subsidies for the New Orleans Saints after Saints players knelt during the anthem before a pre-season game. “If it’s a state-subsidized sporting event, that’s not the place to protest,” he said.

And while I support pulling state subsidies for the Saints for an entirely different reason (mostly having to do with my distaste for supporting a billionaire owner’s hobby—and the requirement that state agencies rent expensive office space from that same billionaire), I would pose this question of Havard:

If a sporting event is not the place to protest, then is it the proper place to honor military personnel? While public support of our men and women in uniform is a noble gesture, it is, nevertheless, just as much a political statement as a protest. You can’t have it both ways, Rep. Havard.

I happen to support both the right to protest injustice and the right to honor our military personnel, even if I happen to disagree with our reasons for invading another sovereign nation. That is my right under the First Amendment. And it’s consistent.

I would suggest that Rep. Havard and those anonymous legislators who made that embarrassingly inadvisable call to Dr. Alexander step back and digest the words of my college classmate TERRY BRADSHAW who, in an NFL pre-game show on (appropriately enough) Fox Sports, a division of Fox Network, had this to say about Donald Trump’s tirade against NFL players who took a knee during the anthem:

It’s hard to believe that I’m going to say something about the most powerful man in the greatest country in the world, but probably like a lot of you, I was somewhat surprised that the President—the President of the United States came out attacking NFL players for them exercising the Freedom of Speech.

While I don’t condone the protesting during our National Anthem, this is America!

If our country stands for anything, folks—it’s freedom. People died for that freedom. I’m not sure if our president understands those rights—that every American has the right to speak out, and also to protest. (emphasis added)

 Believe me—these athletes DO love this great country of ours.

 Personally, I think our president should concentrate on serious issues like North Korea and healthcare rather than ripping into athletes and the NFL.”

Like Bradshaw, I feel legislators also have a few more pressing problems to address than football players taking a knee.

Louisiana is on the precipice of a $1 billion budgetary shortfall. This is largely attributable to the actions of the legislature in falling all over themselves for eight years to do the will of Bobby Jindal, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Grover Norquist—and for failing in their responsibility to face up to the looming crisis. That, after all, is their job—not monitoring knee-bends at a football game.

So, do your damned job.

Instead, you’re worried about some college football player taking a knee and in a frantic effort to prevent that, you make a wildly reckless threat to cut funding even further.

And I thought Roy Moore was an idiot…

 

 

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Only in Louisiana.

A lawsuit filed in 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish challenging the legality of the proposed approval of $450 million in industrial tax exemptions raises two immediate questions:

  • What are Projects Magnolia, Zinnia, Bagel and Sunflower/Sunflower Seed?
  • Why is the Ascension Parish Council being so secretive about the true identities?
  • Why did the Ascension Parish Council’s Finance Committee not follow the law in considering the proposed tax exemptions?
  • Most important of all, what is the Ascension Parish Council trying to hide?

These are all questions to which plaintiffs Dr. Henrynne Louden, George Armstrong and Lana Williams are seeking answers in their petition filed last Friday.

On Sept. 12, the council’s Finance Committee, which in truth is comprised of all 11 council members, met and added to its agenda for the full council meeting of Sept. 21 Item 7, calling for the consideration of “resolutions to award industrial tax exemption at levels recommended by the Ascension Economic Development board for the following projects:

  • Project Magnolia;
  • Project Zinnia;
  • Project Bagel;
  • Project Sunflower/Sunflower Seed.

Altogether, the four projects would cost Ascension Parish $55.6 million—for a grand total of 32 new jobs, or $1.7 million per job.

To see the lawsuit in its entirety, click HERE.

Ascension_code_names.PNG

“The identity of the projects on the agenda for the meeting of the council held on September 21, 2017, are fictitious,” the lawsuit says, adding that neither the plaintiffs “nor any other member of the public could determine, from a review of the consent agenda:

  • The identity of the company (or companies) seeking the benefit of an industrial tax exemption;
  • The amount of the exemption sought for each project;
  • The cost of granting each of the exemptions;
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of the Louisiana State Constitution, or
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73.

“There are two things at issue in this suit,” said a spokesperson for an organization calling itself Together Louisiana: “Whether public subsidies can be approved by a public body without disclosing the identity of the entity receiving the subsidies, and whether reasonably specific public notices must be provided regarding approval of such subsidies.”

Article 7, Section 21(F) of the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 spells out the requirements for approval of the ad valorem tax exemptions for new manufacturing facilities.

“After being elected,” the lawsuit says, Gov. John Bel Edwards determined that the Board of Commerce and Industry “…had approved industrial tax exemptions contracts ultimately resulting in an average of $1.4 billion in foregone ad valorem tax revenue each year for the next five years for parishes, municipalities, school districts and other political subdivisions of the state that directly provide law enforcement, water and sewage, infrastructure, and educational opportunities to Louisiana citizens.”

On Oct. 21, 2016, Gov. Edwards issued Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73 entitled “Amended and Restated Conditions for Participation in the Industrial Tax Exemption.”

The executive order requires that the governor and Board of Commerce and Industry be provided with a resolution adopted by, among others, “the relevant governing parish council, signifying, “whether it is in favor of the project,” the lawsuit says.

The executive order further says that contracts for industrial tax exemptions which do not include a resolution by the relevant local governing authority “will not be approved by the governor.”

The agenda for the Sept. 12 Finance Committee meeting, the plaintiffs say in their petition, “failed to indicate that (it) would be considering whether or not to approve a resolution signifying that the council was in favor of one or more industrial tax exemption.” Despite failing to include the item on its agenda, the Finance Committee did, in fact, recommend approval by the council of such a resolution, placing the committee, the lawsuit says, in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

“Not only are meetings of the public bodies to be open,” the lawsuit says, (but) “citizens have the right to know—in advance—the subject matter upon which governing bodies will deliberate and vote.”

The state’s open meeting laws require posting written notices of the agenda of all meetings “no later than 24 hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the meeting” and “shall include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting.”

The committee’s violation of the open meeting laws, the plaintiff say, deprived the public of the right to:

  • Know what was being considered by the Finance Committee;
  • Directly participate in the deliberations of the Finance Committee;
  • Protect themselves from secret decisions made without any opportunity for public input.

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare actions of both the Finance Committee and the full council void as provided by law.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys, Brian Blackwell and Charles Patin of Baton Rouge are, in all probability, correct in their interpretation of the state’s open meeting laws (Article XIL, Section 3 of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution and Louisiana Revised Statute 42:19).

But this is Louisiana and it has been the experience of LouisianaVoice and other members of the media that the law is whatever some judge says it is. Judges apparently have wide discretion in concocting their own interpretations of the law to accommodate whomever the judges wish to accommodate—usually campaign donors.

The three plaintiffs in this case have the full moral support of LouisianaVoice but the reality is there is usually negligible correlation between law and justice once you walk through those courtroom doors.

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