First, I want you to know how grateful I am for the honor of representing you in Baton Rouge. I take the responsibility seriously, and I try very hard to do my best to improve our state and to secure a good future fo rour children.
This year, the Louisiana Legislature goes into session to consider mostly money matters. This “fiscal” session deals with the state budget. Because our budget for this fiscal year (July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017) was not balanced,we had a Special Session in February to reduce spending.
There was a $304 million deficit at the end of 2016, mid.way through the Fiscal Year. To deal with that, some $82 million in cuts were made. And, $99 million came from the “Rainy Day Fund” – money set aside for just such emergencies. Not all of the state’s financial problems have been solved, and even the popular TOPS scholarship program did not get enough funding for the full school year at full rates.
Major cuts were made in health care, but because of Medicaid expansion -- Louisiana’s working poor are now getting Federal medical insurance ..some mental health and addiction treatments will continue. The Legislature itself had its budget cut by $3.5 million, and the Attorney General’s office budget lost $2 million.
Areas that did not see budget cuts included Higher Education and the Department of Corrections. Louisiana has to focus on stabilizing our tax and budget situation so that we can prioritize our investments for a more prosperous future.
This Legislative Session will deal with revenue, as well as spending cuts. As you might guess, the real problem is that Louisiana does not have enough money (along with Federal money that goes to the state) to cover the costs of keeping Louisiana running. As all of us know, there are only two things to do when you get in this fix: bring in more money or spend less. First, how do we bring in more money?
One option is to either fully or partially reinstate the Stelly Plan. From 2002 to 2009, Louisiana depended on personal state income taxes to help balance the budget. Under the Stelly Plan (named for Rep. Victor P. “Vic” Stelly ofLake Charles), an increase in the personal income tax rate was approved by voters as a tradeoff for lower sales taxes on food and utilities. After the Stelly Plan was repealed in 2009, income tax revenue dropped drastically, which was balanced out in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when the state saw large amounts of incoming revenue for rebuilding. After that came to a halt, the budget crisis became an annual event, and we have experienced 15 mid.year deficits in the last 9 years.
In addition, this year, the Legislature will again look at the policy of deducting Federal taxes on both business and personal state income tax forms – this lowers the amount of taxable income and reduces revenues for the state. Louisiana is one of only three states allowing this. This will not affect the personal income tax for most Louisiana taxpayers, as this deduction requires itemization ...filing long form tax return –which isn’t used by many. Louisiana voters may have the opportunity to approve a Constitutional Amendment to remove the deduction for income taxes paid in exchange for lower individual and corporate tax rates.
Out of the 149,000 corporations in this state, LAST YEAR 129,000 CORPORATIONS PAID NO INCOME TAXES IN LOUISIANA. NONE AT ALL. In addition to examining federal deductions, the Legislature will inspect all the tax credits and tax exemptions these businesses currently enjoy, and determine if some should no longer apply. Taking these important measures would introduce long.term structural reform to our fiscal policy, bring in more revenue and prevent more cuts to higher education and healthcare.
Louisiana now has the highest combination of state and local sales tax in the nation. Remember, paying ten pennies tax on every dollar you spend can add up: and for low wage workers that can be a big hit on the wallet. One of thoseLouisiana tax pennies will run out in 2018, and not renewing it will cost the state $880 million. To make up for some of this loss, the existing sales tax could be extended to new transactions and items. But, that is not enough.
One of the proposals we will study is a Commercial Activity Tax – a tax on business sales. This would be a welcome source of funding for the state.
Of the 414,000 businesses in Louisiana, 389,000 would pay only $250 a year. If sales are under $1.5 million a year,the tax will be no higher than $750 a year. The largest businesses would pay .35 percent above $1.5 million in sales.The Commercial Activity Tax would begin in 2018 – the current Corporate Franchise Tax would phase out over ten years.
If Louisiana can bring in more money with the tax solutions suggested, then we can save some of our most important programs. Remember, when the Legislature makes cuts, there are some things paid for with dedicated funding that cannot be changed. But, the Legislature can freely cut things paid for from the General Fund. Sad to say, that includesEducation, Higher Education and Health Care. Having those three categories in the General Fund means they are one place the Legislature goes to make cuts.
However, we are hopeful that the money coming in from reworking taxes will be enough to • fully fund the TOPS scholarships for all of the next school year, • give more to the public health care system that serves the disabled and the poor, and • give a little bit more (2.75%) to the K12 education system to make up for losses due to inflation.
And, in other good fiscal news, last year voters approved a Constitutional Amendment to create a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. Any excess oil and gas revenue and corporate taxes would go in the fund, and when it reaches$5 billion, up to 10 percent could be spent on construction projects and roadwork. Another portion of oil and gas money will pay down state retirement debt.
In another area, Criminal Justice, reforming the system could save Louisiana serious money. Louisiana spends $700million a year to put a higher percentage of our population in jail than any other state, or country, in the world. States like Texas and South Carolina have seen the crime rate go down when the imprisonment rate goes down. TheJustice Reinvestment Task Force has recommended some reforms that we must seriously consider, that will save the state money and reinvest money into programs to reduce recidivism and aid with meaningful reentry.
Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit would immediately benefit the working poor. This program refunds money to low income people filing Federal tax returns and has a multiplier effect of 1.5 to 2. Currently on state tax returns, Louisiana offers the lowest percentage of the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit of any state – 3.5%. On another measure for the working poor, Louisiana currently has a minimum wage of $7.25, and we should consider raising that.
This year, as always, I remain hopeful that Louisiana’s problems can be managed, and we can make some sensible plans for our future. I will be doing my best to help find sensible, workable solutions, and looking for ways to work with my colleagues to come up with creative ways of making progress.
I welcome your ideas, I look forward to reading your answers to the survey questions,and, as always, if there is anything you need from me, just let me know. I am always glad to work with you.
Walt J. Leger III
* I want to hear from you! Please take your survey!
For years, Louisiana has carried the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world, which unfortunately has not been met with corresponding low crime and recidivism rates. Something isn’t working and it isn’t good for the economy or for our communities.
As a former Assistant District Attorney, Rep. Walt Leger passed a resolution establishing the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force in order to achieve the type of -- bipartisan, common sense, taxpayer-saving, public safety outcome-improving -- reforms that states like Texas, Georgia, Utah and others have produced over the past several years.
On March 16, 2017, the Task Force releases a repot recommending that Louisiana lawmakers adopt a comprehensive set of evidence-based reforms to improve the performance of its criminal justice system, lowering incarceration rates and increasing public safety.
Today, local leaders showcased new research on the contributions of immigrants in the Greater New Orleans Area, specifically highlighting tax contributions, spending power, workforce composition and entrepreneurial characteristics. Spearheaded by New American Economy (NAE), the data release marks the launch of Map the Impact—a campaign to highlight the economic power of immigrants in communities across the country.
This effort arms business, civic, and cultural leaders with new data on immigrant populations in all 435 Congressional Districts and 50 metro areas. Featured in an interactive map that also includes state- and sector-specific data, NAE quantifies every locality’s foreign-born population, tax contributions, spending power, home ownership, and voting power, among other items.
“The economic narrative surrounding the contributions of immigrant populations is particularly important to the people of New Orleans. Not only are we a global city by nature, but we are in an unprecedented period of growth that allows us to recognize new talent and opportunities to make our city as competitive as possible,” said Rep. Leger (D-New Orleans). “When you combine New Orleanians who have been here for decades with New Orleanians who have recently decided to make this city their home, then you have a formidable combination of strength and spirit that will usher us confidently into our next 300 years.”
In the Greater New Orleans Area, Map the Impact shows:
At the Congressional District level, Map the Impact shows that in District 2:
Visit Map the Impact for state, city, and district information that will help leaders grasp the influence of immigrants in America.
More information can be found at www.NewAmericanEconomy.org
State Representative Walt Leger Partners with Local Community Organizations to Provide Tornado Relief for New Orleans East Residents
State Representative Walt Leger (D- New Orleans) is partnering with local community organizations to support New Orleans East residents who were impacted by recent tornadoes. Rep. Leger will be working with groups like the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, the Louisiana State Bar Association and Louisiana Appleseed to offer legal assistance to New Orleans East residents.
"I am committed to lending my time and talents to helping those impacted by the tornadoes. If one part of our city is suffering, we are all suffering. It is critical that we come together as a community to support our neighbors in New Orleans East. Just like we’ve done in the past, we will show the enduring strength of the people of New Orleans. I look forward to continuing the work that will heal this community and our city in the coming months both as a legislator and a proud citizen of New Orleans. I encourage all of us to contribute whatever we can to help our fellow New Orleanians.”
The FEMA Disaster Recovery Center is open on Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and on Sunday from Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. FEMA has indicated that it is not necessary to visit the library in order to receive assistance. To register with FEMA, go online to DisasterAssistance.gov, call the FEMA Helpline (800-621-3362), or download the FEMA mobile app. Help is available in most languages and the FEMA Helpline is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, until further notice.
Rep. Leger will partner to assist those in need of legal assistance such as housing, insurance, contractor and government programs. Residents in need of legal assistance can call the Louisiana Civil Justice Center hotline at 1-800-310-7029 Monday – Friday from 9am to 2pm.
JUN 5, 2016 - 1:23 PM
The Louisiana House gave final passage Sunday night to the last of the four bills ending a feud that has been going on between the City of New Orleans and its firefighters for almost 40 years.
The package of four measures will put into law the compromises both sides made to end an ongoing dispute over back pay and the set-up of pensions for city firemen.
“We had worked out an amendment in the Senate,” chief sponsor Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, said in asking his colleagues in the House to agree with the changes.
It took longer to count the vote than it did to recommend the House agree to the new wording. The House agreed on an 89-0 vote.
House Bill 58 was the last measure over which the two sides bickered throughout the legislative session, which ends Monday at 6 p.m.
The other three bills in the package were approved last week and are on their way to the governor’s desk. Gov. John Bel Edwards must sign all four bills for them to become law.
Since the 1970s, city firefighters and successive New Orleans mayors — most recently Mayor Mitch Landrieu — fought over the dismal state of the firefighters’ pension system and over a decades-old $75 million lawsuit against the city over back pay.
The retirement system had fallen to near insolvency due to poor investment decisions and what the Landrieu administration said were policies overly generous to retirees. Landrieu argued that back pay the city owed the firefighters and the pension problems were linked.
Firefighters won a court order last year holding the city in contempt for failing to pay the back pay judgment. Landrieu was ordered by the court not to leave his house on weekends. (The Louisiana Supreme Court stopped that ruling from going into effect.)
Landrieu responded that the firefighters needed to negotiate the deal or he would give up on the process.
A deal was struck that gave firefighters their money in exchange for agreeing to supporting a package of bills that overhaul the pension system.
The four bills are the result of the deal.
Generally under the pact, newly hired firefighters will have to work longer before retiring and receive less in benefits.
House Bill 56, would raise the retirement age from 52 to 57 and lower the rate by which retirement benefits are calculated. The accrual rate is now 2.75 percent; under the legislation, that multiplier becomes 2.5 percent. That means the benefit would be the product of years of service times final compensation times 2.5 percent.
House Bill 57 would base the contributions to the retirement system on compensation instead of salary. Compensation includes factors such as overtime and lump-sum pay.
House Bill 58 would restrict those firefighters — including the 60 or so already in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan — from also participating in the Partial Lump-Sum Option Payment Account. DROP allows working employees in the last five years of their careers to start being paid retirement benefits while also collecting a paycheck. PLOP allows retirees on their last day of work to take a lump sum payment from their retirement accounts.
House Bill 59 codifies the way sick and annual leave are treated in calculating benefits.
BY jessica williams
MAY 3, 2016 - 10:24 AM
A bill in the Legislature that would relieve New Orleans police officers of the duty of investigating many traffic accidents in the city is facing fierce opposition from the state’s insurance industry, which says it relies on law enforcement to determine who is at fault in accidents.
Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, filed House Bill 417 in March on behalf of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, with the goal of freeing up more members of the city’s depleted police force to deal with serious crimes and reduce lengthy response times.
The bill would require the city’s law enforcement officers to investigate only crashes that result in death or injury; involve drivers who do not have or who refuse to provide driver’s licenses, proof of insurance or vehicle registrations; or involve drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other controlled substances.
As it stands, state law requires police to investigate any crash, no matter how minor. “By eliminating the mandate that NOPD respond to non-injury vehicle accidents, our police officers will have more flexibility to fight violent crime and not spend valuable manpower on traffic accidents,” city spokesman Hayne Rainey said.
In cases of minor crashes, it already has become a common practice for motorists to trade contact and insurance information and let their insurance companies sort it out, Rainey noted.
The city’s need to reduce the burden on police is all the more acute in the wake of the recent defeat of a higher public safety millage, which would have helped police hire hundreds of additional officers by 2020.
While HB417 was referred to the House’s Judiciary Committee, it has not been given a hearing there, and it again was absent from the committee’s schedule this week. While delays happen for many reasons, they often are a sign that the sponsor has decided a bill does not have enough support to move forward.
Insurance companies and brokers understand the sense in having police focus on serious crimes in times of lean budgets, a spokesman said. However, “The bottom line is that without an official police report it will be very difficult to determine fault in a traffic accident, and therefore it will be very difficult to determine whose insurance is going to pay the claim,” Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana Chief Executive Officer Jeff Albright said.
Many lawmakers thus far seem sympathetic to the industry’s position, he added.
Less sympathetic is New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacy Head, who said Monday that state legislators should not be kowtowing to insurance interests.
“HB417 is recommended by experts, it is common sense, and it would result in the equivalent of putting 14 more officers on the streets. If our Legislature bows to the powerful insurance lobby instead of ensuring public safety, we all lose, and the public should be outraged,” she said.
It’s one of the rare times that Head and Landrieu — frequently at odds — have been on the same side of an issue.
The bill is one of several that Landrieu is hoping will pass state lawmakers’ scrutiny. One of them, House Bill 418, also aimed at freeing up police officers’ time, would allow civilians to handle traffic control in the Central Business District.
A separate city program that sought to use civilians to monitor traffic and quality-of-life issues in the French Quarter has been terminated, city officials said last week, due in part to legal limits on their authority and a need to divert funding to other public safety priorities.
The House Retirement Committee passed four bills Thursday (May 12) to overhaul the Firefighter's Pension System of New Orleans in accordance with an agreement between the city and the firefighters negotiated in October, prompting a fight between the mayor's office and the firefighters' union.
House Bills 56 through 59 modify eligibility for benefits, contribution rates, cash-out programs and the value of sick leave within the Firefighter's Pension and Relief Fund.
Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, brought the bills and met with the parties involved before the hearing in an attempt to bring peace to the traditionally combative parties.
"Walt is trying," said Nick Felton, president of the local chapter of the New Orleans Firefighters union. "It's like being a marriage counselor."
The parties are still arguing over whether restrictions on a cash-out program, found in House Bill 58, should apply to those who have been in the retirement system for years. The city wants the restrictions to apply only to current firefighters and new hires. The union says that is not fair to those who made retirement decisions based on the options available to them at the time. The union also claims such applications of the restrictions may be unconstitutional.
In his discussion before the meeting, Leger told the firefighters' representatives he agrees people should not have something taken away from them that they made decisions about in the past. However, he noted the firefighters agreed last year to the restrictions applying to more than new hires. He told them also just because they believe something is unfair does not necessarily make it unconstitutional.
Both of the parties agreed to bring the bills, but representatives for firefighters said after the committee meeting the city introduced changes to the bills contrary to the agreement they negotiated.
Deputy Mayor of New Orleans Andrew Kopplin, claimed the structural reforms to the pension system will save $300 million. The reports from state actuary Paul Richmond do not offer specific numbers of cost savings to retirement systems, but do show three of the bills increase the actuarial cost on state retirement systems, instead of saving money like Kopplin claims.
Kopplin said the $300 million in projected savings is over 30 years and came from the entire deal between the firefighters' union and the City, not just from the package of bills. He said $200 million of the total savings comes from stipulations in the agreement that the firefighters' pension would not give out higher cost of living adjustments to retirees until the system is substantially funded. Kopplin noted the majority of the cost savings in the package of bills will come from House Bill 56.
Felton said Kopplin was not telling the truth following the hearing in reference to the $300 million figure.
"There is bad blood," Felton said. "There is an extremely large distrust on both sides"
Felton claimed the reforms would not save anywhere near $300 million, suggesting the reforms might not save any money due to the nature of retirement systems. Felton said the city demanded structural reforms to the retirement system to spite the union.
The majority of New Orleans firefighters are in the firefighter's union and in the pension system, which has an unfunded accrued liability, or lack of funds to pay benefits, of several hundred million dollars. The two parties have been involved in lawsuits stretching back 30 years.
The bills now go to the full House, where more amendments will be offered.
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on April 21, 2016 at 9:57 AM, updated April 21, 2016 at 11:33 AM
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center would get power to issue taxes within its own district to develop a 1,200-room hotel and a surrounding neighborhood on vacant riverfront land, under proposed legislation.
An economic development district for the convention center -- the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority Economic Growth and Development District -- was created by state lawmakers last year, but taxing authority was specifically written out as an option.
Now, Rep. Walt Leger is pushing legislation that would add that taxing authority within the district. The bill passed a House committee last week.
The possibilities including tax increment financing, typically a special sales tax that goes to pay for infrastructure to boost a commercial development.
Convention and tourism industry leaders envision a mixed-use development on 47 acres of vacant land upriver from the center, between the Pontchartrain Expressway and the Market Street power plant. The center plans to spend up to $175 million on infrastructure and improvements on Convention Center Boulevard to attract up to $1 billion in private investment in a 1,200-room hotel, condos and apartments, restaurants and entertainment.
Stephen Perry, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, said there are no specific plans for tax increment financing or other taxes in the district at this point.
"The bill is really to give more flexibility for the convention center and the tourism industry to work with state legislative leaders, the governor, the mayor, the City Council and our representatives on getting a universal buy-in on the development," Perry said.
Perry said New Orleans is among the top convention and business meeting markets nationwide, and competitors are frequently upgrading hotels and attractions to get new business. The riverfront anchor hotel and neighborhood is an effort to stay competitive.
"This legislation is absolutely critical to what will be the single largest most economically powerful development in New Orleans in many, many years," he said.
"It would involve the kind of atmosphere that, along the river, would make it not only an attractive neighborhood but would create, along with Convention Center Boulevard's complete redo, a convention village that would make it a very appealing destination and make it very real," he said.
The convention center has been in talks with local real estate developers Joe Jaeger and Darryl Berger and The Howard Hughes Corp., developer of the Riverwalk and other retail and mixed use projects nationwide. Last year, they released a proposal for the new development called "The Trade District," although the head of the Convention Center has said the name isn't settled.
Bob Johnson, the center's general manager, couldn't be reached for comment this week.
In a committee meeting last week, Leger said an anchor hotel and new meeting space will allow New Orleans to stay competitive with convention cities such as Orlando, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Conference space at the hotel will help attract smaller but higher-end meetings, such as doctors' groups or drug manufacturers, he said. "It makes it easier for us to compete," Leger said.
We've seen how electing the right leaders can have direct effects on each citizen's quality of life -- from working through a budget crisis and responding to historic flooding to expanding quality healthcare to hundreds of thousands.
So make your voice heard. Early voting is open until Tuesday, Nov. 1., and Election Day is Nov. 8. If you have questions about where to vote, the Louisiana Democratic Party is available to answer them at (225) 336-4155.
There are a number of constitutional amendments - two that I sponsored - on the ballot. The Council for a Better Louisiana summarized them all here: tinyurl.com/zkt6n7k
I also suggest you VOTE YES on the New Orleans Charter Amendment to split the inspector general and police monitor.
For decades, Louisiana has been caught in the same cycle—when times are good, the state spends every dollar generated—and when times are bad, there isn’t enough revenue to pay for all of our obligations.
Without raising taxes, the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund can help fix this.
Endorsed by The Advocate, The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, Council for a Better Louisiana, Louisiana Budget Project, New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, and Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.
Thanks to everyone who came out to my fundraiser on Oct. 10, especially the Finance Committee and Hosts. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the full house. I am grateful to work with each of you to improve the lives of people in New Orleans and across Louisiana.
A champion for the tourism and hospitality workers who keep our economy humming, Walt gave the keynote at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau luncheon.
As part of an effort to breakdown existing institutional, cultural, and linguistic silos between families and schools, Walt participated in the Nuestra Voz listening tour.
Walt was honored by the United Way of Southeast Louisiana as a 2016 Louisiana Legislative Champion for supporting legislation that impacts our communities.
Walt was recognized in Washington, D.C. as a 2016 Angels in Adoption® awardee for his outstanding advocacy of adoption and foster care issues.
As an advocate for smart transportation and a new board member of Ride New Orleans, Walt moderated the organization's State of Transit panel.
Walt spoke at the St. Bernard Parish Chamber of Commerce luncheon to share why it's important to VOTE YES ON #5 for the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.
Walt spoke at the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce board meeting, and they endorsed constitutional amendment #5!
Walt spoke at the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce board meeting, and they endorsed constitutional amendment #5!
Walt returned to his alma mater for a mock presidential debate, representing Hillary Clinton. Rep. Cameron Henry also participated, representing Donald Trump.
Walt offered the opening remarks at the LPCA's 33rd Annual Conference. The nonprofit promotes accessible, affordable, quality primary health care for the uninsured and medically underserved.
Walt had the honor of speaking at the Historic Tax Credit Council's breakfast.
America's Wetland Foundation
A champion for our coast, Walt participated in America's WETLAND Foundation's roundtable discussions on the State's master plan.
View the report here (23.9MB PDF) or click the thumbnail below. This is a large PDF file and may require some time to load.