Gov. Jeff Landry’s special session on mass incarceration moved so quickly that fiscal analysts didn’t have enough time to determine how much the various bills would add to the state budget. While questions about cost can sometimes halt a bill’s journey, legislators suspended their own rules and bypassed the committees that review proposals’ fiscal impact. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn explains how the added costs – known and unknown – come at a precarious time for state finances:

At minimum, according to legislative analysts, the package will cost taxpayers just north of $32 million. But that doesn’t include 10 bills that carry “indeterminable” costs to the state, fiscal analysts wrote — amounts that will depend on factors such as crime rates, the speed of court proceedings and other hard-to-predict trends. …  A temporary .45-cent state sales tax, a remnant of a plan to plug deep budget holes six years ago, is set to expire next year and take almost half a billion dollars in annual revenue with it. And while the state has hauled in hundreds of millions of surplus tax dollars in each of the past few years, recent fiscal forecasts show sharp dips in those one-time collections.

Administration officials and many lawmakers were dismissive of the common-sense notion that keeping more people in jail for longer periods of time will cost more money:

An analysis by the Crime and Justice Institute, a Boston-based think-tank, found that by mostly eliminating early release for good behavior, HB10 would grow the average cost of housing a single violent offender for the length of their sentence by about $52,000. It would increase the same cost for non-violent offenders by about $82,000, the group found. If that cost increase were applied to every violent and non-violent offender released on good-time credit in 2022, keeping all those prisoners in state custody for their full sentences would cost an extra $878 million, according to the analysis.

Crime session won’t make Louisiana safer
Gov. Jeff Landry’s special session on crime, which rolled back many of the landmark criminal justice reforms of 2017, is likely to once again make the Pelican State the most heavily incarcerated place in the world. But there is no evidence that harsher sentences and restrictions on parole and probation will actually help reduce crime. A Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate editorial elaborates:

(T)he session’s headline items reek of ideology, not data-driven problem-solving. And we were dismayed to hear lawmakers dismiss concerns over the Legislative Fiscal Office’s projection of increased costs for some measures. By their very nature, special sessions are designed for speed rather than thoughtful, careful deliberation, and this one fit the bill. All of these items could have waited and gone through regular order. Again, none of this is to say that crime is not a serious problem or that we aren’t prepared to support promising solutions. That’s simply not what just happened in Baton Rouge.

Child watchdog agency has investigations blocked
Sen. Regina Barrow’s Act 325 formed a new ombudsman’s office to investigate complaints about the treatment of children in state care. But as the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Andrea Gallo reports, Kathleen Richey, Louisiana’s first State Child Ombudsman, is encountering barriers to perform her job:

But Richey, a longtime East Baton Rouge juvenile court judge, said it has become clear during her five months in the job that the law must give her more leeway — both to investigate complaints and to speak directly and confidentially with young people in foster care or juvenile prisons. … But under current law, Richey does not even have the power to subpoena confidential DCFS and juvenile records that she says she needs to do her job.

Legislation for the upcoming regulator session has been filed to alleviate these issues:

Barrow, who carried the bill that created the ombudsman, has filed Senate Bill 145 for the upcoming legislative session that would confirm Richey’s ability to access records, among other changes. “She has been a one-woman show,” Barrow said. “She’s doing a lot more than she’s been asked to do.”

Corporate tax avoidance 
Corporate tax avoidance has remained high in the five years since former President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul, according to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. But ITEP’s research shows that nearly a quarter of the profitable corporations it analyzed paid effective tax rates in the single digits or less from 2018-2022, with more than half paying less than 5%. Authors Matthew Gardner, Steve Wamhoff and Spandan Marasini explain: 

Twenty-three corporations paid zero federal tax over the five-year period despite being profitable in every single year. And 109 corporations paid zero federal tax in at least one of the five years. “For many of the biggest corporations in America, our 21 percent tax rate is an accounting fiction,” said ITEP Senior Fellow and lead author Matt Gardner. “Because of an array of special-interest tax breaks, the most profitable corporations in America routinely pay effective tax rates far below the legal rate.”

Number of the Day
$32,075,940 – The minimum amount of money that the recent overhaul of Louisiana’s criminal justice system will cost state taxpayers each year. This price tag will certainly increase because the cost of 10 other bills have yet to be determined. (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office via the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge | Advocate)