Louisiana’s powerful corporate lobby is out with a plan that it says would make the state a more attractive place for business. The LA23 report by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry calls for raising teacher pay and new investments in workforce training and early childhood education. These critical priorities cost money. But instead of raising the revenue to pay for them, LABI wants to do away with the state income tax and push costs to lower-income residents by increasing the state sales and gasoline taxes. The Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn explains

Jan Moller, director of the nonprofit Louisiana Budget Project, which backs tax and budget policies that it says help poor and working people, said the LA23 plan contains promising shifts from LABI on early childhood programs and other issues. But the sweeping tax cuts detailed in the plan came with few answers for how to fund those programs, Moller said. “I really do appreciate they understand the importance of investing in kids…but there’s just an inherent contradiction between what they want and what they’re willing to pay for,” Moller said. 

Reality check: For decades, corporate leaders have preached that the only way to lure businesses to an unattractive state like Louisiana is through generous grants, tax breaks and other incentives. But this approach fails to address the high poverty rate and poor levels of educational attainment that often make Louisiana unattractive to businesses.

Job creation controversy in ITEP approval
The state Board of Commerce and Industry approved a significant industrial property tax break  on Wednesday despite pushback from locals on the economic benefits to their community. American Plant Food, a Texas-based firm, initially promised more than 100 six-figure salary jobs as it sought approval to build a fertilizer plant in a mostly-Black area in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. But the company’s application to the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) showed significantly fewer jobs with much lower pay. The job numbers had slightly increased by the time of Wednesday’s meeting. The Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s Robert Stewart reports:

Company officials pushed back, saying the plant will now be built in phases, hence the lower initial projections. They said the project should still hit 100 jobs once it is fully built. Lisa Karlin, a Jefferson Parish resident who previously raised concerns about the plant’s environmental impact, accused American Plant Food of “manipulating the numbers” to win its ITEP exemption. She said approving the APF contract would allow companies to inflate their job totals to win public support before reducing them to lessen their ITEP burden. “The public wants to know what the Board of Commerce and Industry is going to do about this because it’s not so much now about APF’s ITEP application as it is APF’s conduct,” Karlin said.

Disclosure: LBP Executive Director Jan Moller is a member of the Board of Commerce and Industry, which rules on ITEP applications.

Another step backward on juvenile justice
A lucrative contract between the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice and a private security company is raising concerns among criminal justice advocates. Earlier this year, the OJJ hastily agreed to pay Coleman Consulting Group, LLC $9.5 million to provide security services for two state youth prisons. The Lens’ Nick Chrastil explains the unusual nature of the contract. 

The $75 hourly rate is more than any public OJJ employee made in 2022. It’s multiple times what an average person working at a secure-care facility makes. State records show that juvenile justice specialists, who interact with detained youth every day, only pull in between $17 and $35 each hour. “Somebody here is enriching themselves on the backs of Louisiana’s teenagers and taxpayers,” said David Utter, an attorney with Fair Fight Initiative, who was part of a recent lawsuit that succeeded in getting youth removed from an OJJ facility at Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary. “It seems very, very fishy to me, to have so much money being spent on so few people… to supervise kids.” 

Advocates are frustrated that the state’s juvenile justice justice system, which desperately needs reform, is relying on previously unsuccessful tactics of privatizing correctional facilities. 

“This is another step backwards that OJJ is taking with regard to the state’s youth justice system,” [Director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Loyola Law School Hector] Linares said in an email, noting the state “rightfully moved away from this kind of privatization” when it closed the Jena facility. At every level, Linares saw problems: “The large costs and lack of clarity with regard to the scope of services, qualifications and OJJ oversight in the contract exacerbate general concerns related to accountability and transparency that generally come with the privatization of secure facilities for youth.”

Digital redlining
The Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules on Wednesday that would allow the agency to punish internet companies for providing worse service to low-income customers. The rule, which stems from a little-known provision tucked inside the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, aims to ensure everyone benefits from equal access to broadband internet service. Route Fifty’s Kery Murakami explains how the efforts to prevent digital redlining align with previous instances of racist zoning and financial policies. 

At the event on Tuesday, [chair of the Federal Communications Commission Jessica] Rosenworcel emphasized that there’s no evidence that broadband providers intentionally provide lower-quality service to disadvantaged communities. But, she added, because of decades-old business policies and practices, “many of the communities that lack adequate access to broadband today are the same areas that suffer from longstanding patterns of residential segregation and economic disadvantage.” Civil rights and broadband advocates have for years accused broadband companies of installing or maintaining higher-quality broadband in richer areas where they can make higher profits. 

Number of the Day
$180,000 – Annual amount that the Office of Juvenile Justice is spending for each guard under a contract to use a private company to provide security services for two state youth prisons. (Source: The Lens)