Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The plot thickens on budget deal; More proposed changes to film subsidy program; LSU president takes his message to D.C.; and Letter: Marijuana sentencing bill might make things worse


The plot thickens on budget deal

With a week remaining before the Legislature must adjourn, a high-stakes game of chicken is underway between the House and Senate over a key plank in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget plan. The SAVE bill – widely denounced as a “gimmick” designed to let the governor save face with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist – was shot down Thursday by a House committee, only to be revived hours later on the other side of the Capitol. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges was there:


State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, is the sponsor of the SAVE fund legislation and is the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He got his committee to attach the SAVE fund Wednesday night to three different Robideaux tax bills and then promptly approve them. “They threw stones at Sen. Donahue, and he threw some back,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said afterward. Alario, who has been Jindal’s chief protector in the Legislature during the past four years, said the Senate would keep attaching the SAVE fund to other must-pass House legislation until House leaders negotiate a truce. “We got time to talk and stop all the sword rattling,” he said.


Without passage of the SAVE bill, which essentially creates a phantom $350 million tax credit to “offset” other revenue measures already passed by the House, it’s likely that Jindal will veto the budget deal. But legislators still have a full week to settle their differences – and plenty of legislative instruments that can be used to cobble together a deal.


More proposed changes to film subsidy program

Amidst the back-and-forth over the SAVE credit on Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee made other substantive changes to two revenue bills that came out of the House and delayed action for the second day in a row on a solar tax credit bill. Tyler Bridges has details:


As the committee hearing began, House Bill 829 would cap the cost of the film tax credit at $200 million per year. It is projected to cost $250 million this year. The committee approved an amendment Wednesday night that would cap the program at $180 million per year but rejected one that would establish a $165 million cap. State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and the bill’s sponsor, has favored keeping the program with some changes.


Critics of the program say taxpayers are getting little bang for their buck. Independent studies show that taxpayers get about 20 cents in tax revenue for every $1 in tax credits given to film makers. Supporters credit the tax subsidies with creating thousands of jobs and turning Louisiana into “Hollywood South.”


The committee also revisited the inventory tax credit–perhaps the most contentious piece of the revenue package–at the request of business lobbyists, undoing some of the changes made the day before.


LSU president takes his message to D.C.

Louisiana’s struggle to finance higher education was heard on Capitol Hill this week, where LSU President F. King Alexander told a Senate committee that the state’s flagship university faces its worst funding crisis since 1961. As’s Bruce Alpert notes, Alexander said the budget crisis threatens the university’s ability to provide a high-quality education without a crushing debt load for its graduates.


Alexander offered a pretty straight forward higher education funding solution for federal lawmakers Wednesday. Congress, he said, should consider using a portion of the $700 billion in federal higher education assistance as “leverage,” meaning that to qualify for the aid states would be required to continue their own “public investments in their public colleges and universities.” Under the 2009 government stimulus program the Obama administration developed to help end the economic tailspin, money was provided to higher education, Alexander noted. But much of it, he said, was conditioned on states maintaining their pre-crisis funding levels – in effect in 2006. He credits that requirement with keeping funding at 2006 levels in 20 states.


Letter: Marijuana sentencing bill might make things worse

A letter writer to the Baton Rouge Advocate says legislation nearing final passage that’s designed to lessen criminal penalties for marijuana possession could end up having the opposite effect for some offenders.  And that, in turn, could make it harder for Louisiana to end its designation as the world’s undisputed leader in incarceration.


Though the main trend in enlightened thinking about criminal justice these days is to avoid mandatory minimum sentencing and allow more lenient options for nonviolent offenders, the ayatollahs in the Legislature have inserted into Sen. Morrell’s bill a provision to change the possible sentence for some acts of marijuana possession from a six-month and/or $500 fine maximum sentence to a two-year mandatory minimum sentence with a 10-year maximum, plus a mandatory fine of $10,000 to $30,000. This hair-raising increase only applies to persons having possession of between two and one-half and 60 pounds of the controversial plant. So if SB241 becomes Louisiana law, citizens should be forewarned that too much of a good thing may set them back even more than before.


Number of the Day


$180 million – Cap on film subsidies passed by the Senate Finance Committee, still above the $150 million ten year average, but below the previously proposed cap of $200 million (Source: The Advocate)