During last November's hurricane-recovery session, special interests were also able to force through a small tax cut on electricity and natural gas, but the momentum came to a noticeable halt in this year's regular session when lawmakers turned their attention to other matters having little or nothing to do with economic growth.
But the political landscape is shifting again, and the next several months could be ripe with opportunities. Budget surpluses for 2006 and 2007 could potentially top $1 billion, and revenue forecasts remain somewhat bolstered by oil prices and recovery spending. To top it off, 2007 will be an election year complemented by term limits, which could make for a generous Legislature.
Business advocates are already eyeing the situation and crafting a strategy that focuses on furthering tax reforms. Still, the rosy fiscal situation could flip at any moment; state Treasurer John Kennedy has repeatedly warned that the "recovery bubble" will eventually burst, leaving Louisiana in a less-than-desirable financial position.
Special interest groups realize the likelihood of that scenario, but they argue their respective memberships will be there to support the economy when the fizzle starts ' and policy makers should make every effort to strengthen business and industry now.
Donna Landry, chairwoman of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, says the push for tax reform could be successful next year if business interests take a united front and state revenues don't take a dramatic fall. She also says business leaders need to consider progressive issues for regional development.
"Our focus in recent months has been on transportation and infrastructure issues," Landry says. "The current model for financing our priorities is under-funded, and we need to make sure we're getting our fair share so we can manage our population and traffic growth."
Specifically, the chamber is interested in finding alternative funding methods for the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway project, a transportation plan expected to cost upwards of $740 million, depending on the route selected. Tolls and tax collections have been explored in the past ' City-Parish President Joey Durel's proposed sales tax for road infrastructure is on the November ballot ' but Landry says more opportunities must be pursued.
Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the largest lobbies in the state, says readdressing the current phase-out of business taxes on equipment and debt are among his groups' top priorities for next year. "It would be nice if those taxes were accelerated, or even eliminated outright, but largely we just need to make sure they eventually come off the books," he says.
The state sales tax on manufacturing equipment has been evaporating slowly over the past two years, with 35 percent coming off in July. More will be deducted each year until 2010, when all of the tax will be eliminated. Even though it is in the process of being abolished, the tax still places Louisiana at a disadvantage against other southern states that don't apply anything, according to Juneau.
R. Charles Hodson Jr., state director of the National Federal of Independent Business, a nonprofit advocacy group with 6,000 members statewide, is pushing an effort to apply the equipment tax break to small businesses that rely on desktop computers and other common machinery. Doing so would send a symbolic message to an underrepresented constituency, argues Hodson.
"It's a fairly narrow band of equipment that can be used, and unless you're a huge manufacturer, you're really not getting any benefit," Hodson says. "I understand we need to be looking for that silver bullet, like landing a Mercedes plant, but let's not forget about our small businesses and those that are already here."
The groups being led by Juneau and Hodson are also considering asking lawmakers to accelerate the phase-out of the state's tax on corporate debt. The mechanism, which collects upwards of $120 million annually for the state, is being eliminated over a seven-year schedule beginning this year.
Dan S. BornÃ©, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, says his membership's No. 1 issue for the coming year is eliminating the remaining 3.3 percent sales tax on the use of natural gas and electricity, the only levy of its kind in the nation. It was originally reduced from 3.8 percent during last November's special session, but BornÃ© says the job needs to be finished in 2007. "That impacts every business in the state that receives a utility bill," he says. "It also protects the petrochemical industry because we buy so much natural gas to keep generating power and electricity. We use natural gas the way a bakery shop uses flour, and that tax is eventually passed on to consumers."
Aside from the state's fiscal concerns, the biggest unknown next year will be how term limits ' during an election year ' will play out with all these issues. BornÃ© says the lure of early retirement, coupled with the need to get re-elected, might make for a perfect situation for business and industry.
"It's an election year like none other and the first of its kind," BornÃ© says. "We'll be cruising uncharted waters because there's no telling what an election year layered with term limits will have on public policy issues and whether they gain traction. But I don't think it'll be a year where lawmakers are looking to tax anybody, so we're safe from that for now."
The circumstances surrounding the death last March while in the backseat of a sheriff’s cruiser of Victor White III, long a source of dispute by White’s family, have earned an investigation by federal officials.
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."