A joint Louisiana House-Senate committee Wednesday approved minor changes to rules governing the way the state rebates money to businesses that create well-paying jobs, although officials of the program could not say how many jobs have been created and at what cost.
LeuAnne Greco, executive counsel forLouisiana Economic Development, and Frank Favaloro, who oversees the Quality Jobs program, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs that they did not have the data handy, but would research the questions and respond as soon as possible.
Greco asked the panel to approve the minor changes in the program’s rules to “smooth out some of the bumps” the agency has faced in administering the jobs program. She said the rules have not been revised since 2003, and the proposals before the joint panel Wednesday have been in the works since 2008.
Greco told lawmakers that if the rules were not submitted in time for publication in the Louisiana Register in October, the agency “will have to start all over again” on the rule-writing process. She also said that more rule changes are in the works based on legislation passed at the recent session.
The program allows a company a 5 percent rebate on new permanent jobs created when the positions pay at least $14.50 an hour with health-care benefits; a 6 percent rebate is paid for jobs created paying $19.10 an hour and health benefits. The rebate is given on all new jobs created for 10 years.
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, asked Greco and others from the agency to quantify “what we are getting in return” for the rebate. “The public perceives this … is a giveaway,” he said. “We need benchmarks to reassess this.”
Greco said the program is working and is attracting new jobs to the state. She said it applies only to direct jobs that are created in Louisiana, not indirect jobs.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, pressed Greco and the agency staff for more precise information. “It is important for us when we go to our constituents (that) … we need to have a quantifiable number of jobs,” he said. “We can’t say, ‘Trust us. It created 1,000 new jobs.'”
Morrell asked Greco for the median salary of the jobs created under the program. Greco said she did not have the numbers available but told Morrell that the minimal annual salary to qualify for the program is $29,000.
“That’s a pretty bad job,” Morrell said. “Twenty-nine thousand dollars is not a quality job. You make more than that as a rural commercial fisher and we don’t incentivize them.”
“We keep passing new laws and nobody knows what they do,” Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said. “We would like to know if it is working. I don’t think anybody objects to this” program.
Greco said the department publishes the costs and benefits of the program in its annual report to the Legislature.
Adley was not satisfied by that answer. “Somebody ought to be able to tell us how many jobs have been created,” he said. “That’s all I want to know. Do you have to wait for an annual report?”
Adley said that based on a report from the Department of Revenue, the state last year paid out about $20 million to companies in the Quality Jobs program. “How many jobs have we gotten from the program?” he asked. “For $20 million it is fair for us to ask that question.”