Change doesn’t come easily in Louisiana

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Much has been written about Louisiana state government having too much control over local government operations, but that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The issue surfaced during the current legislative session when bills were filed designed to reduce local control over industrial property tax exemptions.

Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2016 gave local government agencies a voice in deciding which manufacturers gets those exemptions. Business interests aren’t happy about the change, insisting it hampers economic development.

Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, is sponsoring one bill trying to curb local input, but it isn’t doing well. Senate Bill 214 is on the subject to call list in the Senate, but it may not surface before the session ends.

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White said earlier this month, “We’re taking the local money, that’s an incentive to try to get a company to come, a manufacturer to come to your area to create jobs, to create wealth, to give you folks jobs. Why can’t the locals help?”

Then White listed state services state taxpayers provide to local governments. There is the $3.8 billion Minimum Foundation Program that funds K-12 public education, $101 million planned this year for teacher pay increases, another $100 million for state supplemental pay to local law enforcement and fire personnel and millions of dollars spent on local construction projects.

“We’re like Santa Claus to the locals,” White said.

More local help is also in the works. Interest from unclaimed property funds held by the state treasury could be used to finance local projects if the legislation is approved at the current session. Another effort is also under way to help local businesses improve their ability to borrow essential funds.

Some legislators over the years have tried to improve the ability of local governments to raise more of their own funds, but little has changed. The Advocate said with limited sales and property tax collections, small town Louisiana has to look at things like speeding tickets to balance local budgets.

With anti-tax sentiment so strong in the state, it isn’t likely many local governments want to wean themselves off state support. Government agencies in central and northeast Louisiana are already having trouble raising essential operating funds.

None of these are new issues. These problems have been around for a long time, and there don’t appear to be any easy or quick solutions.

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Crystal Stevenson, John Guidroz, Jim Beam and Mike Jones.