The Louisiana House Chamber passed bill HB456 which would require the state’s Department of Economic Development to redact specific employee data from public records relating to corporate tax incentive programs, but some legislators argue that the bill is “anti-transparency.”
The bill, which is now being considered by the Senate, would apply to record requests on companies receiving tax breaks through initiatives like the Industrial Tax Exemption program (ITEP) .
The bill’s primary author, Representative Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), says it’s meant to protect the private information like names, addresses and social security numbers of people employed by participating companies, but opponents argue that one particular requirement in the bill, redacting employee wage data, prevents the public from seeing if employers deserve the tax break being provided.
“I’m okay with not having the names, the addresses, the [social security numbers], it’s okay not to have the name of the position. But if we can’t correlate the hours worked with the wages at an individual basis then it is impossible for the public to know whether or not the statutory requirements on the wage are met.” said Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) during debate before the bill was passed by the Louisiana House Chamber floor on May 20. “It’s the only way we can possibly know it.”
In response to an amendment proposed by Ivey that would have removed the redaction requirement for individual wage data but kept all the other redactions, Edmonds noted that various government departments have the power to internally review the details of each companies.
“[Louisiana Economic Development] can find out what those wages are. I believe the Department of Revenue can check up on all these.” said Edmonds.
However a March 2020 tax incentive evaluation report issued by the state legislative auditor on the Quality Jobs (QJ) program, one of the tax break initiatives that would be affected by the redaction requirements, found that Louisiana Economic Development “did not always notify [Louisiana Department of Revenue] when a company did not meet the job creation requirements of the QJ program, as required by state law.”
Edmonds also argued that because the employees are not the ones receiving the tax incentives, the wages the company pays should not be required in the public record.
“You mentioned that we’re trying to protect an employee, if in a report the employer reports wages for a position, any position, and then they also report the hours associated with those wages, how is an employee’s information possibly in Jeopardy?” asked Ivey.
“I understand you’re wanting to make sure they’re living up to the deal, that’s the incentive. I get it. But I don’t think a regular employee, [they’re] not responsible for any of that, they’re just an employee.” responded Edwards.
Ivey referred to data from the 2019-2020 Tax Exemption Budget to suggest that the wage data redactions would benefit large corporations participating in the Quality Jobs program.
“It’s 123 companies getting $140 million. You can’t tell me this bill is for [small companies]. This bill isn’t about accountability or protecting the little guy. This is only about masking some of these issues for the big companies… This bill would allow for no public accountability whatsoever. None. Zero.”
Reps. Buddy Mincey (R-Livingston) and Robby Carter (D-District 72) also had questions regarding the bill’s effect on the transparency of the corporate tax incentive programs.
“Representative Ivey, we talk about transparency in here all the time, from every aspect or not. Are you telling me that this bill, if it passes in this current state, would not allow us that transparency?” asked Mincey (R-Livingston), to which Ivey affirmed.
In his closing remarks before the final vote in the House, Edmonds suggested opposition to the bill was more about issues with the tax incentive programs and defended himself and the bill against accusations of anti-transparency reiterating that the bill was about protecting employees.
“This is not about a business reporting or lack of reporting. They’re still going to have to do all their reports. They’re going to have to qualify why they’re doing what they are doing, None of those things are removed. This is about an individual that works for a company. This is not about a person that applies for any one of these exemptions. These are individuals. This is for their personal data.”
The bill passed 59-38 without Ivey’s amendment.