Gov. Jeff Landry’s Energy, Chemical, and Maritime Transition Council recommends “streamlining”  the local approval process for the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, to ease the path for manufacturing corporations seeking lucrative property tax breaks. But a separate transition group, the Municipal & Local Affairs Policy Council, wants local governing authorities to have more say in who gets a tax break. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller spoke with Police Jury Association President Guy Cormier, who wants local approval to rest with parish “industrial development boards:”  

Parishes that don’t already have such a board would get the option to form an ITEP council to serve in that capacity, Cormier said. As envisioned by the transition team, a simple majority vote of a parish industrial board would decide the fate of the entire tax exemption. There would no longer be partial approvals if, for instance, a parish school board rejected an application while its sheriff approved it. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reforms to ITEP did not lead to mass rejections that some predicted, but did bring in nearly $300 million in new revenue to local governments.

The Louisiana Budget Project’s Jan Moller, who served on the state Board of Commerce and Industry during the Edwards administration, said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to change the local approval process just to make it more convenient for large corporations. “It’s not unreasonable to ask a company to run their tax exemptions before the local entity that’s giving up the tax revenue,” Moller said. 

Reality check: The transition council recommendations are just that – recommendations. It will be up to Landry and the Legislature to decide who has authority to forgive the property taxes that help support schools, police departments and other municipal services. 

Remarkable rebound for Louisiana students
Louisiana students have recovered from the massive learning loss sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic better than their counterparts in other states, according to a new study from the Education Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Louisiana is one of only three states where reading test scores fully rebounded. In math, state students recovered about halfway compared to about a third nationally. But the state did reflect national trends for its income and racial disparities in the learning recovery. The Times Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports

While the state made impressive gains, the report also highlights stark divides. Black and Hispanic students have made less progress in math than their white counterparts, widening racial disparities. And some school districts, especially those serving more poor students, still trail far behind the state average. … “Yes, they’re back in school and they’re not losing any more ground,” said Thomas Kane, faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and a co-author of the report. “But they’re not catching up.”

Groceries prices are too damn high 
Grocery prices rose slightly last year despite cooling inflation and falling prices for other goods. Some of the factors can be tied to the pandemic, such as labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, while others, such as an avian flu outbreak and droughts, are products of mother nature. The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai and Jeff Stein explain that grocery prices might never return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Robust consumer demand has also fueled a shift to more expensive groceries, and consolidation in the industry gives large chains the ability to keep prices high, economic policy experts say. “I think people are waiting for prices to return to what they call ‘normal’ — and with the exception of a few things, like eggs — we’re not going to see that. We’re going to see prices stabilize, and that’s likely it,” said Dawn Thilmany, an agricultural economist and professor at Colorado State University.

While grocery prices remain high, the pandemic-era aid that helped families afford food has expired:

Low-income families have been hit hardest by rising grocery prices, and they spend 31 percent of their income on food, compared with 8 percent for wealthier ones. Food insecurity is rising and food banks around the country report significant increases in demand in the past year, particularly after the expiration of extra pandemic food stamps last February. (Still, the Biden administration has also approved the largest-ever expansion in the food stamps program, resulting in an extra $36 per recipient per month at the time.)

LDEQ is in denial 
Far too often, the state agency charged with regulating pollution prioritizes the emitters of harmful toxins over the communities it is supposed to protect. Now it appears the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is simply refusing to acknowledge facts. Numerous reports, including one from Tulane University, have shown that Black communities in Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, known as “Cancer Alley,” have faced higher levels of pollution and increased risk of cancer because of it. But as the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose explains, the agency disagrees:

“LDEQ does not use the term Cancer Alley,” department spokesperson Greg Langley told Human Rights Watch. “That term implies that there is a large geographic area that has higher cancer incidence than the state average. We have not seen higher cancer incidence over large areas of the industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.” To put it another way, LDEQ would have you believe Gen. George Custer had the Lakota right where he wanted — just before their arrowheads broke his skin. This stance, at the very least, should raise serious doubts about LDEQ’s analytical capacity, not that its long history of industry-friendly regulation would lead anyone to expect better.  

Number of the Day
353,000 – Number of jobs that U.S. employers added in January. The better-than-expected amount indicates the U.S. economy remains strong. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)