Category: Baton Rouge

Marijuana Legalization Progressing in Louisiana?

Tomorrow, January 21, 2014 in the Louisiana House of Representatives, at the request of Rep. Dalton Honore the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice will hold a hearing to request a study on the feasibility of legalizing marijuana use and possession. I have to admit I am very (pleasantly) surprised they’re even talking about it. I’m not going to get my hopes up, but at least the conversation is progressing.

The link to the committee agenda is here.

Tax Breaks For All

Since 2008, 62 “cultural districts” have been created in Louisiana. Of those 62, 20 are in Orleans Parish. Currently, a 63rd is being proposed for the Uptown-university area of New Orleans.

According to the Louisiana Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Department, “The primary goal of this initiative is to spark community revitalization based on cultural activity though tax incentives.” To accomplish this goal, they allow artists selling their original artwork within the districts to waive sales taxes. Also, owners of “historical” properties (i.e. 50 years old or more) can receive tax credits for renovation work.

I requested and received the annual reports for all 20 of the New Orleans districts. The data can be found here. For some reason, the Lincoln Beach district did not file a report for 2011 though. If you wish to see other years, simply change the year in the domain name.

If the goal of the New Orleans City Council is to make all of New Orleans one giant cultural district, they are well on their way.

 

The red blocks are the existing districts, with the blue being the newly proposed district.

I began this post with an aim different from where I wound up. Originally, I intended to dig through the annual reports to see if these districts were truly gaining anything from these special tax breaks. Also, I wanted to try and quantify the cost associated to taxpayers for these breaks. During my research though, I discovered that last Monday, July 23, 2012 was the first day of an investigative panel seeking to quantify all the tax breaks given in the entire state of Louisiana. I’ve sent an email to the head of the review committee to specifically request they not overlook the cultural districts. The results of this review are due by February 1, 2013, so I will eagerly await their report and save my time for other projects.

However, as I thought more about the issue, I realized my position had somewhat drifted. Yes, we need “to flush out low-performing and obsolete tax incentives by exploring their economic impact and value to those affected by them,” as House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, a member of the Revenue Study Commission, put it. But, we also need to use the data to better simplify the tax code so all Louisianans benefit.

After all, a tax break or incentive simply allows people or businesses who earn income to keep more of their income. That is not a bad thing. Where it can get out of hand though, is when some parties are benefiting more than others simply due to their lobbying might. I’m excited to see the commission’s results and what kind of drastic, beneficial changes can result for all Louisiana taxpayers over the next year.

 

Happy Development In Louisiana Booze Laws

In case you missed it last week, there is good news for fans of Louisiana distilled spirits. According to the Times-Picayune:

“Louisiana distillers of spirits now can offer tours of their facilities and sell their products in-house, changes that will help members of that industry expand sales and attract tourists. Senate Bill 64 was passed by the state Legislature at the end of May, giving distilleries the freedom to give tours and sell 12 bottles of a product to an individual.”

A small but welcome step toward alcohol freedom in Louisiana. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dan Morrish, R-Jennings, who gave his rationale for the bill as “Americans drink a lot of rum and hopefully they will drink more Louisiana rum”. I couldn’t agree more.

Now, I’ve written before about the horrible laws affecting Louisiana craft and microbreweries. Hopefully the success of this bill will lend toward some movement next year for beer lovers as well. Reading further in the Times-Picayune article gives credence to that hope.

Andrew Godley, the founder of Parish Brewing in Broussard, said that Senate Bill 64 passed without opposition, which makes him optimistic that something similar will go through for breweries.

“The law that just passed is very encouraging,” he said. “Recently, brewing companies haven’t tried anything. (There will) likely be pushing for modernization of the laws for fairness in the state of our industry.”

Further,

Godley thinks one of the main reasons breweries haven’t pushed for the change in legislation is the lack of a large micro-brewing industry in Louisiana.

“It takes quite a bit of people to force something to move,” he added. “There’s no push for it. You can’t have legislative change without a group of people working for change.”

Well Mr Godley, consider me another member of the group working for change. Cheers!

Religion For Me, But Not For Thee

This morning I came across a different spin on the school voucher reforms passed in the Louisiana legislature earlier this year. In case you’ve forgotten, HB976, passed as Act 2, allows families to use school vouchers to go toward tuition at religious schools.

Well, it seems that Livingston and East Baton Rouge Parish Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, after voting for the bill, realized that could include (Gasp!) Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.

So apparently, she’s only OK with vouchers being used for tuition at the right kind of religious schools. With right=Christian.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Now, I’m actually OK with vouchers being used for private and religious school tuition because I believe parent and student choice over the schools they attend should be the top priority in education. But, Rep Hodges, seriously? I mean, really? Fortunately, you did everyone a favor and were explicitly clear in your bigoted views which is something that the religious right isn’t always. I would implore you to go ahead and really think about what religious freedom truly means. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t just apply to Christians.

 

CODOFIL Controversy

Before I start, I have nothing against the French language or those who speak it and hope to further develop that part of Louisiana culture. Also, I know LA Rep. Stephen Ortego (D-Carencro) personally and can attest that he is genuinely a good guy looking out for the best for his constituents. That being said, recent “woe-is-us” complaints about Gov. Jindal’s line item veto of a $100,000 increase in funding for the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana is a bit ridiculous.

Comments like below give a crystal clear example of why it is so damn difficult to ever actually cut government budgets.

It’s only $100,000, and I know we have more than 100,000 Cajuns in this area of the state,” State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley said Thursday. “We can show (Jindal) that no matter what he does in Baton Rouge, we are going to survive like we did for hundreds of years, and we’re going to be part of this state whether he wants to include us or not.”

Sure, it’s only $100,000 of other people’s money. Why not force all LA taxpaying citizens to spend a portion of their tax dollars on something people who really want to learn the language could spend themselves? But if the government doesn’t fund this program further, that clearly means that people will no longer speak French, which apparently is what Gov. Jindal secretly wants anyway. At least that’s how I interpret Jack Montoucet’s words. However, in a quick check of the wildly popular Rosetta Stone language software program, one could buy all 5 levels of the French program for a whopping $399! Not to mention that this cut does nothing to affect French immersion programs in LA schools. So, I’m fairly certain that we will not suddenly see a drastic dip in French speaking Louisianans.

Also, Earth to Montoucet, there is no grand conspiracy to rid Louisiana of French speakers. I understand that you are simply trying to best represent your French speaking constituents. So to that aim, I suggest that instead of railing against the government for prioritizing the state budget, you look to private organizations and efforts to make up the difference.

Perhaps even, you could exert leadership along with Ortego and Pierre to work toward removing alleged dependence on state government largesse from the further development of French in Louisiana entirely. Given the relatively inexpensive options available for teaching the language, and the clearly passionate constituency of those who care about the issue, I don’t imagine this should be too difficult a task.

This is just another example of what we face in the long slog toward identifying necessary functions of government and the often-times painful process of cutting from the budget those nonessential functions. But if at every turn we face headline producing shouts of “Not Us! It’s just $100,000,” what hope do we truly have of making any significant progress of living within our collective means?