Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Legislature has a chance to help working families; Budget deal still not in place with only two days left; House and Senate in cigarette tax standoff; and Funding for transportation and roads approved


Legislature has a chance to help working families

With less than two days remaining before the Legislature must adjourn, lawmakers still have a chance to help more than 515,000 Louisiana tax filers who work hard all year yet don’t earn enough at their jobs to make ends meet. An amendment tacked on to Senate Bill 93 by Sen. Robert Adley would expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 7 percent of the federal credit, from the current level of 3.5 percent. The bill was sent to a House-Senate conference committee, where three legislators from each chamber will decide its fate.  Marsha Shuler of The Advocate reports:


State Sen. Karen Peterson asked senators to go along with the change. “It helps all the poor people in the state. We give a lot of tax breaks to the wealthy,” said Peterson. “It’s an attempt to balance some of the money we have been giving away for years to business.” The New Orleans Democrat said the provision also helps offset some tax increases which budget-balancers are trying to do to meet Gov. Bobby Jindal’s requirement. Jindal and some legislators have signed an Americans for Tax Reform pledge of no “net” increase in taxes. “I’m just trying to help the folks with their own pledge,” said Peterson. Fifteen senators voted to accept the House change while 23 voted against it.


Budget deal still not in place with only two days left
There is still no budget in place that will keep Louisiana government running beyond June 30.  On Tuesday the House rejected changes that the Senate had made to seven revenue bills, creating a standoff that must be resolved by Thursday.  The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports:


Those measures would raise about $600 million beginning July 1 to prevent deep cuts to Louisiana’s public health care system and public colleges and universities. The House’s move sends all the measures to conference committees where three legislators from each chamber will try to settle their differences and present a final version to the House and Senate for approval. “Thursday’s it,” state Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said in an interview. “Ready or not, here we come.” At stake is state spending for hundreds of public institutions and programs, including LSU, Southern University, the University of New Orleans, Baton Rouge Community College, the soon-to-open New Orleans hospital, Our Lady of the Lake, Lafayette General Hospital, health insurance for 56,000 working poor people in New Orleans and the LSU medical schools in Shreveport and New Orleans.


House and Senate in cigarette tax standoff

The House is balking at the Senate’s decision to raise the state cigarette tax to $1.08 per pack, the regional average, instead of the lower $0.68 per pack increase that passed the lower chamber. The differences will be worked out – or not – in conference committee. The Advocate reports:


The House had approved a cigarette tax hike that would lift Louisiana’s tax to 68 cents-per-pack. The Senate, meanwhile, added other forms of tobacco to the increase and sought to raise the per-pack cigarette tax to $1.08. Several House members balked at the proposal during a debate on the floor Tuesday. “We do need to raise the cigarette tax some, but us trying to raise all of our taxes from poor people is not good tax policy,” said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe.


Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, argued that the larger increase could harm business and encourage smokers to cross state lines to buy cigarettes. “If you want to protect Louisiana workers and wholesalers then you need to reject these amendments,” he said.


Funding for transportation and roads approved
A group of five bills designed to reduce Louisiana’s massive transportation funding backlog passed on Tuesday with little trouble. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports:


The bills would allow low-interest loans to parishes and municipalities to help pay for transportation projects. The legislation would set up a fund in the state Treasurer’s Office using state dollars that would otherwise be invested elsewhere. The fund would be part of the Louisiana State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.


The bank would be run by a seven-member panel that includes the state treasurer, the secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development and others. Local officials would be required to show they could repay the loans through bonds or other financing. Voters rejected a similar proposal last year. The bills are among an array of proposals that would offer modest fixes to transportation problems amid Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.



Number of the Day


$120 million – Additional revenue the state will receive if the cigarette tax is approved at the Senate’s $1.08 per pack rate instead of the House’s $0.68 rate. (Source: The Advocate)