Board to New Orleans: Drop dead
At the heart of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2016 reforms to Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program was the ability of local governments to weigh in on whether or not to grant lucrative property tax breaks sought by manufacturers. In the case of Folgers Coffee, elected officials in New Orleans were clear that they wanted the company to pay property taxes. But the Board of Commerce and Industry had different ideas on Wednesday, when it voted to grant several tax breaks sought by the coffee giant. The Advocate |’s James Finn and Robert Stewart report: 

The decision, which followed a months-long legal battle, was cast as a referendum on local governments’ authority to bar companies from getting ITEP incentives. “We can’t micromanage into 64 parishes,” Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson, a member of the board, told fellow panelists. “In this case, you certainly must recognize that while these policies are more onerous than you might like, these are policies that have been set by parish governments.” The board let Folgers skip out on 80% of its School Board taxes for all six of its projects but only let it avoid 80% of city taxes for two projects. It was not immediately clear Wednesday how much money Folgers will pocket in tax breaks and how much the city will collect in property taxes under the decision.

Disclosure: LBP Executive Director Jan Moller is a member of the State Board of Commerce and Industry, but could not attend Wednesday’s meeting. 

Focus on issues in governor’s race
The last governor’s race was very much an issue-free campaign, as the three major candidates offered few details on what they planned to do if voters elected them to the state’s top job. This time around, the need for clarity from candidates holds renewed importance as the current Gov. John Bel Edwards is term limited and new leadership is certain. As Louisiana faces an inflection point, an Advocate editorial urges gubernatorial candidates to provide real ideas on how they will move the state forward, not just platitudes and tropes that mask the serious questions we face. 

That’s not in the interests of us, the voters. And in particular, it’s not in the interests of a government that works effectively instead of politically. In the words of the Louisiana Budget Project, one of the groups talking issues this year, the budget must add up “so the state can continue making the kind of investments that will move Louisiana’s economy forward.” The state’s future requires attention to real, hard choices, not open-ended, people-pleasing platitudes. We hope the new initiatives — and the candidates — will provide that this year.

Opposition to carbon capture grows
Petrochemical industry leaders – along with state and national politicians – are touting carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as an industry-friendly way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by pumping carbon dioxide and other emissions deep underground. But local officials in Livingston, Ascension and Iberville parishes are pushing back against the unproven technology. The Advocate’s Rebecca Holland reports from a contentious meeting in White Castle: 

(Council Chairman Matthew Jewell) and other council members argued Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources does not have a good track record in enforcing permits. “The DNR has done nothing to enforce laws on books. The water [in the spillway] won’t flow, the fisheries are dying, the people have had enough,” he said. “So help me Jesus, I will resign over this board before I endorse something like this.” At that, the meeting erupted in cheers and shouts of “hell no, we don’t want this!” and “stay out of our yard.”

Reality check: CCS is a key part of Louisiana’s climate action plan and the Inflation Reduction Act.

SNAP benefits return to pre-pandemic amounts
The monthly food benefits that people receive through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which increased during the Covid-19 pandemic in response to rising rates of hunger, returned to pre-pandemic levels on Wednesday, March 1. The reduction in benefits will push as many as 32 million Amerians over a “hunger cliff” as food prices remain high. Axios’ Emily Peck explains:

However, Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at Brookings, said that the way the enhanced benefits are ending is disappointing. “There are better [gradual] ways to dial down a program.”What they’re saying: The COVID era was a time when policymakers made a concerted effort to alleviate hardship. Now we go back to a base level of economic supports that “allow very high levels of poverty to remain in the country,” said Sharon Parrott, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It’s a reminder that “poverty is a policy choice in this country,” said (Elizabeth) Lower-Basch (deputy executive director for the Center for Law and Social Policy). “For a while we decided we were going to make a different policy choice.”

Stateline’s Marsha Mercer explains how some states are helping residents cope with lower benefits. Louisiana families who rely on federal food assistance will receive an average of $164 less per month

Justice Department sues over cancer risks
One of the first tasks given to a new civil rights office within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was to determine if Louisiana regulators discriminated against Black residents when allowing the Denka Performance Elastomer plant to locate near neighborhoods and schools in Reserve. On Tuesday, the Justice Department, on behalf of the EPA, sued Denka, alleging that the plant presents an unacceptable cancer risk to the nearby community. The AP’s Michael Phillis and Matthew Daly report on the lawsuit and the state’s long-time knowledge of the toxic pollution. 

The lawsuit demands that Denka eliminate dangerous emissions of chloroprene. Air monitoring consistently shows long-term chloroprene concentrations in the air near Denka’s LaPlace plant as high as 15 times the levels recommended for a 70-year exposure to the chemical, the complaint says. … Last year, the EPA said it had evidence that Black residents face an increased cancer risk from the chemical plant and that state officials allowed the pollution to remain too high. The agency’s letter was part of an investigation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says anyone who receives federal funds cannot discriminate based on race or national origin.

Investing in children and families
The expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit brought an historic reduction in child poverty in 2021 by giving low- and moderate-income families a monthly, no-strings-attached cash allowance, which they used on basic necessities. Unfortunately, Congress failed to renew the credit at the end of 2021 and the results have been stark – at the end of 2022, approximately 3.7 million more children were living in poverty than the year before. While some states have taken it upon themselves to provide support for parents, the New York Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum highlights the critical role the federal government can and should play in supporting families: 

Earlier in the pandemic, the federal government did more to help parents than it had ever done before. Washington temporarily mandated paid leave for many workers, it gave billions of dollars in aid to child care businesses, and, for several glorious months in 2021, it even expanded the child tax credit to provide assistance to most families with children. But the aid has faded away. Mr. Biden has persuaded Congress to invest in the nation’s roads and bridges but not in making child care available and affordable. He has presided over a big expansion in federal support for manufacturing — and a sharp drop in federal support for working parents.

A new report from Brookings explains the expanded Child Tax Credit had the greatest impact at reducing poverty in low-cost, high poverty states like Louisiana. 

Number of the Day
$164 – Average benefit decrease for Louisiana families that receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The 18% of Louisiana’s population who rely on SNAP benefits will start receiving less per month beginning in March because SNAP emergency allotments will return to pre-Covid amounts. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)