If the talk of walkouts of teachers and school employees has spread to Louisiana, it's in part because such extreme actions have been successful elsewhere.
We don't know if such tactics will work here, and we worry that the cause of increasing teacher pay and funding for public schools will suffer.
From Arizona to Oklahoma to Tennessee — all, it has not escaped notice, politically conservative as is Louisiana — strikes or other types of walkouts at schools have generated crises that often as not resulted in overdue attention to teacher pay issues.
Now, in Louisiana's capital city, employees recently planned a Halloween protest walkout to pressure the East Baton Rouge School Board to revoke some tax exemptions for the ExxonMobil refinery and chemical complexes in the city.
The walkout was canceled after the items targeted by the unions were not on the agenda of the state Board of Commerce and Industry. That board grants the breaks, but subsequently they must be confirmed by local governments, typically councils, school boards and sheriffs.
Property taxes are, after all, local government revenues. The ITEP program has long been a case of state government giving away other people's money. Yet there are wrinkles, in terms of policy and politics, that make it a difficult path forward for those who support paying teachers more.
For one thing, industrial facilities with big ITEP tax exemptions are not located in every parish. In New Orleans recently, the Orleans Parish School Board turned down an ITEP applicant from Algiers. However, unlike in St. James or St. Charles, or Baton Rouge-area parishes, rejecting ITEP applications is simply not going to be a big source of additional property tax revenues. The same is true of Lafayette Parish.
For another thing, the politics of rejecting exemptions in industrial parishes is not at all clear-cut.
Public bodies respond when their meeting rooms are filled with hundreds of workers from local plants who back ITEP exemptions because they will expand or keep open the facilities where they are employed. In many parishes, a drive against ITEP applications might lead to a backlash, creating a constituency against tax increases for teacher pay raises.
And that is the third wrinkle in all this. The teacher walkouts in other states have often been met with raises from the state level. That is particularly true in Southern states, where the state capital is one of the major sources of operating funds for schools; in many other states, the balance between state and local revenues going to the schools is different, with local taxes paying employees and state money used for buildings.
The money for day-to-day operations in state government today are routinely threatened today by partisan gridlock in Louisiana. Expecting state revenues alone to be the sources for future teacher raises is unrealistic, meaning that unions and others supporting increases have to be worried about local political implications of threatened walkouts, like those in Baton Rouge.