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Edwards’ tax bills start advancing in the Louisiana House

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ tax proposals started moving Tuesday in the Louisiana House, though it remains unclear which tax hikes can win enough support from House Republicans and which ones will hit roadblocks.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which is the first stop for tax bills, advanced more than 30 tax measures — including many pushed by the Democratic governor — to the full House for consideration.

The committee didn’t put its stamp of approval on each, however. Instead, lawmakers backed some measures and indicated their disapproval of others even as they sent the bills to the House floor for debate. The full House is expected to start voting on tax bills Thursday.
Edwards is proposing a state sales tax hike, increased taxes on businesses, changes to individual income taxes and boosted taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to help balance Louisiana’s budget.

The changes would be extensive, and the implications widespread on taxpayers.

One of the biggest-ticket items heading to the House floor is a 1-cent sales tax increase that Edwards calls the “cornerstone” of any budget rebalancing plan because it could raise a substantial amount of money quickly. The sales tax hike would kick in April 1.

But lawmakers on the Ways and Means Committee said people shouldn’t read too heavily into their decisions to release so many tax bills for further debate. They said they wanted to give their colleagues a chance to consider ideas as they look for ways to balance the budget.

“What you saw today was a procedural punt to the House floor,” said Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which opposes several of the measures advanced by the committee.

Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, defended the approach, saying his panel whittled down the list from more than 90 tax bills after days of lengthy hearings.

But he also said committee members didn’t want to put too many limits on tax proposals because the House budget committee still hasn’t offered its recommendations for how deeply to cut state services — and lawmakers don’t know how much money they want to raise.

Meanwhile, senators have started worrying about time running out in a special session that must end March 9, if the House didn’t start approving bills soon.

“We were forced to act by circumstance and time,” Abramson said. “We did the best we could in the most thoughtful way we could.”
Edwards and his top lieutenants said they were pleased the House would consider a lengthy package of bills.

“We’re happy that we have action, that bills are moving, that bills are coming out,” said Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson, the governor’s point person on the tax measures.

Edwards is seeking cuts, short-term fixes and taxes to close a gap ranging from $850 million to $950 million for the budget year that ends June 30. He’s also asking for tax increases to help address a more than $2 billion shortfall in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Republicans, particularly in the House, have been reticent to support taxes, saying they want deeper cuts first. A proposed package of cuts is expected to be considered Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee.

Without new tax revenue, the governor says public colleges, health care services and an array of government programs would be hit with devastating reductions.

“I appreciate the committee’s willingness to make these difficult decisions,” Edwards said in a statement after Tuesday’s votes.

Minden Press-Herald

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