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 After the Stelly Plan was repealed in 2009, income tax revenue dropped drastically, which was balanced out in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when the state saw large amounts of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.
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.
This summer, I had the honor of personally working with change makers from the Urban Leaders Fellowship (ULF), and, on behalf of my constituency, I would like to thank them all for their diligent efforts to advance policy solutions for Louisiana. If you are unfamiliar with the organization’s mission, the ULF, with Executive Director Lani Young at the helm, recruits cadres of the nation’s most talented emerging leaders to spend seven weeks in eight metropolises across the country, including the ULF’s home base of Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Nashville, Washington, D.C., Oakland, and my own city, New Orleans.
As Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives and representative for New Orleans’ District 91, I asked my cohort of fellows to focus on six different policy areas: Early Childhood Care and Development, Community Policing, Criminal Justice Reform, Immigration, Transportation, and Equitable Development. Each fellow then collaborated with a partner organization, such as the Louisiana Department of Education or Tulane University’s Cowen Institute, to conduct research and stakeholder interviews. During the months of June and July, the fellows produced a weekly memorandum addressing specific questions as well as a culminating presentation with final policy proposals and supporting data analysis.
As my staff and I combed through the reports, we were repeatedly impressed with the thoughtfulness and creativity of the proposed innovations, as well as the attention to detail displayed by the data analytics. The work of the Urban Leaders Fellows will have a direct impact on the legislation I put forward to the Louisiana House of Representatives next session, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to interact with a group of such intelligent and civic-minded individuals.
Though I have said my farewells to the 2016 fellows, I have no doubt that I will be hearing several of their names again in the coming years and decades as they leave their respective marks on society. I offer my warmest wishes to these young leaders and encourage them to keep the fiery passion for progress alive in whatever careers they ultimately pursue.
VIEW THE REPORT HERE: http://www.renewoureconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/nae-la-report.pdf
Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Well, the historically long stretch of consecutive legislative sessions that ended last week has been ‘difficult’ — to put it mildly.
At the outset, we faced a mid-year shortfall of $954 million and a $2.1 billion deficit for 2017. It’s been widely reported how Jindal’s failed policies led us into dire straits and falsely reported the actual budget allocations for previous years, so I won’t rehash it here. In the end, we are left with a budget that still falls $337 million short of what was necessary in order to maintain services provided last year. The somehow still standing vocal minority that some refer to as the Jindal caucus refused to vote to fund these vital services and declined to close tax loopholes for the wealthy and big business. Unfortunately, these decisions will affect all Louisianians.
In this difficulty, though, I see opportunities. We have a new Governor. We have a chance to unite behind sound policies. We can create innovative systems to ensure Louisiana never ends up in this dreadful predicament again.
We didn’t win them all. And some legislators, blinded by ideology or driven by political motivation, failed us. But we seized some major opportunities - like the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund and other legislation described below.
On a personal note, I can’t thank you enough for your support and guidance these past several months. There were times when I was frustrated and fed up - but knowing what I’m fighting for and that you’re there with me gave me the strength to persist.
And while we will surely continue to encounter difficulties, I’m going to continue seizing opportunities. Call me an optimist - you can count on it.
Speaker Pro Tempore, Louisiana House of Representatives
State Representative, District 91, New Orleans
During years of high revenue collection, the State invests in education, healthcare, infrastructure and other priorities; but historically, lawmakers have ignored the inconsistency of these excess revenues, especially in volatile markets such as the oil and gas industry. So when there’s been a downturn in revenue, government has been forced to raise taxes or find some other saving grace. This boom and bust cycle has once again reared its ugly head as we have seen historically low mineral and corporate income revenues. It’s time we take this problem head on, and that’s why I sponsored legislation to create the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.
This represents the most significant opportunity created during the sessions of 2016 for long-term fiscal reform that addresses the cycle of ups and downs our State has faced for generations. It will be up for a vote this fall, and I urge you to VOTE FOR OUR FUTURE
My legislation passed to give the Convention Center flexibility within its own district to boost commercial development along the New Orleans riverfront. The Convention Center plans to spend as much as $175 million of their bond capacity on infrastructure and improvements along Convention Center Boulevard with the hopes of attracting up to $1 billion in private investment for a mixed-use development that will include a 1,200-room hotel and entertainment district. This is primed to be one of the most transformative projects in decades and will reshape our riverfront into a true destination for visitors and residents alike, with the added bonus of diminishing the pressure imposed by masses of tourists on other major tourist destinations in our great City.
My legislation passed allowing the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to create large-scale restoration projects and provide corresponding credits available for purchase by Responsible Parties in minor oil spills as fulfillment of their obligation to restoration. The exciting part of this bill is that private investors can develop and fund wetland projectsthat are already part of the existing $90 billion Master Plan in coastal restoration. These private projects will have a direct and immediate impact on coastal restoration and protection at a quicker pace and a much lower cost than would be incurred by the government.
Throughout this extraordinary year of budget negotiations, I made healthcare a top priority. I fought to fully fund Louisiana's safety-net hospitals, medical school system, and the University Medical Center, which are all critical for the health of our citizens and the health of our economy. I'm proud to report that we finally expanded Medicaid in Louisiana. Healthy Louisiana goes into effect on July 1 and will extend healthcare coverage to almost 375,000 eligible Louisianans. I sponsored two bills that did not advance but that I will continue to champion: one to provide for Medicaid-managed long-term care and support systems, which would save valuable state funds, and another to require wellness exams for students entering kindergarten and sixth grade, which would help catch health problems early and improve overall well-being of school-age children. If the child isn’t healthy, success in the classroom is that much more difficult.
Before our government looks to collect revenue through new taxes, I thought it prudent to collect revenues already due to the State. That is why I sponsored legislation to even the playing field between brick and mortar small businesses right here in Louisiana and their online competitors -- who often don’t remit and collect taxes that our small businesses must already collect. This legislation will begin the process of ensuring that taxes currently due from online purchases are remitted to the state and local governments. It is estimated that between $80 and $400 million in lawfully due taxes are uncollected. These collections can have major impact on improvement to our local roads and infrastructure, as well as to the provision of vital services for the people of Louisiana.
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. Last year, I 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. The Task Force was extended this year and has the goal of producing evidence-based legislation for 2017 that will lower incarceration rates and increase public safety. As a former Assistant District Attorney who has seen the system from the inside, criminal justice reform was one of my original motivations for offering myself for public service. Now, with this task force of highly qualified and experienced people, we have a chance to get on the right path. With the support of Governor Edwards, conservative think tanks, progressive and conservative advocacy organizations, the faith-based community and democratic and republican lawmakers, the time is now to push for meaningful reforms.
At the end of the legislative sessions of 2016, we are left with a budget that still falls $337 million short of what was necessary in order to maintain services provided last year, which means underfunding our safety-net hospitals and state aid for public schools and only funding TOPS at 70%, and continuing the short-sighted practice of investing the minimum amount in higher education just to stay afloat. This is what we are left with after 19 weeks of the somehow still standing vocal minority that some refer to as the Jindal caucus, who refuse to vote to fund these vital services and decline to partially close loopholes for the wealthiest taxpayers and for big business.
Unfortunately, these decisions and nondecisions will affect all Louisianians. It will affect our children, our young families and our elderly. And it will affect our students. A last-minute amendment was added that front-loaded TOPS awards, which will cover full tuition costs in the fall, but will leave our students with only 40% coverage in the spring without the ability to apply for more financial aid. This means that students at LSU will have to find an additional $2,133.30 halfway through the school year to continue their education, students at other colleges across the State will likewise have to find additional dollars to fund the TOPS shortfall. This amendment, along with the provision that one third of any new revenue must go to TOPS, higher education and DHH, leaves us with a budget that, although honest, is deeply flawed. This also strips the executive branch of its constitutional authority to spend funds as necessary throughout the fiscal year to carry out the appropriations made by the legislative branch.
This is a budget that ties our hands and is neglectful of so many other important considerations such as our children, families, youth services, and public safety. To further complicate matters, as we work through a Justice Reinvestment Task Force, these handcuffs will make investment and reform even more difficult to achieve in meaningful corrections activities like drug courts, re-entry programs, job training and education opportunities, as well as alternatives to incarceration.