Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Revenue raising measures will be heard Monday; College students rally against cuts; New state office of multimodal commerce? and; Transportation Trust Fund raids continue

Revenue raising measures will be heard Monday

The Legislature’s possible plans for raising new revenue will become a little clearer next week when the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee starts considering tax bills. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports that the committee’s specific agenda, which remains undecided, is drawing lots of attention from business leaders:


Even Republicans are saying they expect the Legislature to ask businesses to pay more taxes, given the size of the deficit and the desire to limit cuts in state aid given to the state’s colleges and universities. As The Advocate reported late last year, tax breaks for six major programs alone cost the state $1.08 billion in 2014, up from $207 million in 2004.


Sen. Robert Adley of Benton is carrying legislation for Gov. Bobby Jindal – Senate Bill 126 – that would free up  $526 million by eliminating refunds given to businesses that exceed their state tax liability, with the bulk of that coming from the inventory tax rebate. Adley’s Senate Bill 85 would also repeal the inventory tax through a constitutional amendment and would raise $452 million.


To repeal the inventory tax, Adley said, the Legislature would have to create new ways for local governments to raise revenue. “Instead of telling them we want to take away all of their money, we also want to find a way for them to come up with extra money,” Adley said.

But in a measure of the difficulty that legislators face, repealing the inventory tax would only partially help fill the projected $1.6 billion budget gap because the budget has to be balanced by July 1 and voters could not repeal the inventory tax until the fall.only partially help fill the projected $1.6 billion budget gap because the budget has to be balanced by July 1 and voters could not repeal the inventory tax until the fall.


College students rally against cuts

Students rallied on the steps of the State Capitol and testified in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday in an effort to stave off a potential 82 percent cut in state support for higher education. The Advocate reports that the worst case scenario would leave only $123 million in state support for state colleges and universities to share next year.  Any cuts this year would come on top of nearly $700 million in reductions since 2008.


“The state has asked us to do more with less, and we’ve done that, but now you’re asking us to do more with nothing,” said Grambling State University Student Government President Eric Johnson. About 150 students, representing all four college systems, gathered on the Capitol steps waving signs that read “No Funds, No Future,” “No cuts,” and the more colorful “Katrina didn’t close UNO but the cuts can” and “Don’t (expletive) with my education.” Some wore medical scrubs; many wore their school colors. Jindal’s executive budget recommendation has about a $211 million gap in funding for higher education, but it relies on the state scaling back some tax breaks for businesses. That plan remains uncertain as legislators weigh their options for finding additional funding for higher education.


New state office of multimodal commerce?
Sen. Norby Chabert of Houma is advancing legislation that would create a “multimodal office” within the Department of Transportation and Development. Jeremy Alford reports the the new office would would focus on commercial trucking, ports, waterways, aviation, freight and passenger rail and be paid for by fee increases:


Application, administration and processing fees for some of Louisiana’s most popular economic development programs could soon increase to help the state pay the costs of overseeing them. The House Commerce Committee approved HB 773 today to create the new fee schedule. “The fees in this area of the law have not been increased in many, many years,” said Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, the bill’s author. The impacted fee changes would be applied to the Quality Jobs Program, Enterprise Zone Program, restoration tax abatement, research and development, and other programs. There are eight new fee schedules in all, ranging from $250 to $15,000. If passed, the legislation could increase self-generated revenue for the department by $1.9 million annually, on the high end.


Transportation Trust Fund raids continue
The Legislature justs can’t seem to keep its hands off the Transportation Trust Fund, and the gasoline tax dollars that are supposed to pay for road and bridge upkeep. Mark Ballard of The Advocate reports on the latest raid, which occurred when the Joint Legislative Committee agreed to divert $2 million from the fund to pay for de-icing of roads when wintery weather hit 23 parishes. Sen. Jack Donahue of Mandeville was not pleased:


“We’re going to take $2 million away from the road maintenance that this state needs and put it to de-icing because they can’t find $2 million out of a $1 billion budget” for DOTD, Donahue said. During an interview later in the day, Donahue admitted he knew he was on a quixotic quest. But, he said, he had tired of agencies and legislators raiding the Transportation Trust Fund whenever they need money. He touched on a volatile issue. The trust fund collects revenues from the tax on gasoline and other sources. The money is the key state source for financing roads and bridges. But the fund is raided all the time. Since 2005, $418 million has been diverted from the state’s chief transportation fund to the State Police. “I wanted to make a stand,” Donahue said.


Number of the Day

$211 million: Cuts in state support for higher education in next year’s budget under the best-case scenario put forth by Gov. Bobby Jindal  (Source: The Advocate).