BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's lawmakers have spent months combing through $6.8 billion in tax breaks on the state's books with an eye toward getting rid of those deemed unworthy of the spending. If they can settle on a list of what's poor-performing, state leaders are at odds over what to do with the savings.
A struggle is brewing over whether the dollars raised by eliminating a credit or exemption should be used to plug budget holes or to create new tax breaks.
Some lawmakers see an opportunity to offset cuts in a state that has been hit with repeated rounds of budget slashing and that faces a $963 million budget shortfall next year. Gov. Bobby Jindal and other lawmakers disagree, saying new tax incentives can help boost the economy.
Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said the tax break review could help shrink the budget gap by eliminating "some credit or some rebate or something that's not in line with our philosophy."
"Certainly we wouldn't want to give a bad deal for rich people and take away something for those that are poor or in need," Thompson said.
Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, is chairman of the House tax committee and of the tax break study panel scrutinizing Louisiana's more than 460 tax breaks. He said it's too soon to talk about eliminating tax breaks to generate new dollars for state spending.
"I'm not convinced that our budget is done in a way that maximizes all the money that we do have available," he said.
Jindal, who has said he will make a restructuring of the state's tax code his top priority for the next legislative session, has come down firmly against any removal of a tax break to drum up money for the budget.
The Republican governor says any revamp of taxes on individuals and businesses should be "revenue neutral," meaning that if state officials decide a tax break no longer makes sense and should be eliminated, the savings would then be used to pay for the cost of lowering taxes somewhere else.
"This is not an exercise to simply raise revenue and grow government. We want to grow the private sector economy, not the government economy," Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates said in a statement.
Jindal's focus is to simplify Louisiana's tax code, with an eye to attracting business and easing the complexities of tax filing for families and companies, said Tim Barfield, executive counsel for the Department of Revenue and the governor's leader on the tax code revamp.
Barfield expects the Jindal administration to offer its proposals by mid-January.
Jindal will veto any measures that get rid of tax breaks to generate new dollars for the state's budget, according to Bates. The governor calls that equivalent to a tax increase.
"Eliminating bad deals in tax incentives or whatever you want to call them, credits or reductions, is certainly not raising taxes. It is managing a budget and taking out parts that are not working," he told the governor's chief budget adviser at a recent hearing.
The issue crosses party lines.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, the Republican who pushed for a review of the state's long list of tax breaks, said he wanted to scour the billions of dollars in credits, exemptions and rebates because of the state's ongoing budget woes.
"I am interested in making sure Louisiana's getting its fair share for what it's giving," said Donahue, R-Mandeville. "I'm hoping we can find some we can get rid of."
He's not discarding the possibility that trashing low-performing tax breaks could give the state more money for filling budget gaps. He said it's too soon to decide the best way to handle any cash that could be generated.
Robideaux said the threat of the governor's veto would make it difficult to pass any legislation that uses tax break removal to fill budget holes.
"That doesn't mean it doesn't have a chance of passing. But that's a pretty big hurdle," he said.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.