Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Bad and worse

Just before the holiday, we here in New Orleans were congratulating our councilpersons (perhaps a little too much) for signing off on a new set of criteria for local taxing authorities to consider when asked to grant Industrial Tax Exemption requests to businesses. The new rules, though, really aren't as restrictive as they ought to be. Some of the requirements, such as the dictate that companies receiving the exemption set up shop in a "distressed" area, sound well-meaning but, in practice, probably don't benefit most residents of the said areas.  Other stipulations, such as the requirement that companies "demonstrate good-faith efforts to funnel at least 45 percent of their work hours to New Orleans workers" are practically meaningless.

Worst of all, the whole exercise is still a capitulation to the false notion that large industrial concerns such as Bollinger must be subsidized at all by taxpayers. In passing these rules, Council has tacitly agreed that there is a public benefit received in exchange for the neglect of public schools and services that funds such subsidies.  We cannot be certain at all that these rules will result in fewer exemptions being granted. But we can be certain from looking at them that our councilmembers' governing philosophy is still steeped in neoliberal bullshit.

Of course it could be worse.  We could live in Calcasieu Parish where they've decided to just outsource the whole question of tax subsidies for oligarchs straight to a panel full of the oligarchs themselves.
The group is named the Calcasieu Parish Taxing Authority, and its rules state they “meet to objectively review and make a unified recommendation to the taxing authorities for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program.”

However, the objectivity of this setup may be fairly questioned because these meetings are private and strictly confidential, and the facilitator of the group is the head of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. They have not established – publicly – any formal guidelines for the evaluations.

The legality of this scheme is being questioned, with concerns about it violating Louisiana’s open meetings and public records laws, because the appointees to the Calcasieu Parish Taxing Authority for ITEP are carrying out public functions in a venue closed to the general public.

Indeed, according to the Taxing Authority’s most recently (October 2018) revised rules, even local elected officials are prohibited from attending the meetings, “due to concerns about confidentiality and the competitive nature of industrial projects.” Whatever critical analysis is taking place occurs within the private halls of pro-business Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance—hardly an open or neutral forum. Calcasieu has essentially created a proxy committee that is able to “evaluate” exemption proposals away from the eyes and the scrutiny of concerned citizens in the headquarters of an organization privately-funded by the very companies applying for tax exemptions.
What could go wrong?

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