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."
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, April 23, 2014:
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”