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Finances topic of legislative meetings

State Rep. Gene Reynolds, district 10, traveled to Baton Rouge Thursday for a continuing series of talks on budget and tax reform.

“We’re just mainly gathering data,” he said. “The format is we’re going to break down into two subgroups tomorrow (Friday), one for spending and one for revenue. Then we’ll come back together within about two or three weeks with a recommendation from each side to present to the new administration.”

Other than the format, he didn’t go into many details as to what has been said in the last two meetings, other than to say they’ve met with economists and experts who have been advising them on what they can and cannot do when restructuring the budget and tax reforms.

Right now, it’s more about organization, historical data and information gathering. On Friday, they will sit down and choose one of the two subgroups and begin discussing what they can do.

In tax reform, he says last year’s tax revenues showed that individual tax and sales taxes made up about 58 percent of the state’s revenue.

“Our tax revenue adds up to about $10 billion, but our total budget is $25 (billion),” he said. “It shows you how much federal monies and fees that we get. We’ve looked at a flat tax, we’re looking to maybe change some of the exemptions, the ones that may or may not be working. We’re probably not eliminating them but modifying them.”

However, he says that whatever they do will have a sunset, or a time that it ends. Reynolds says it will probably be a three-year trial to determine what’s working.

“In my opinion, I think that’s a very prudent thing to do,” he said. “We’re trying to be methodical about it; we’re trying to be very meticulous in going over the data. We want this to be a much better planned, organized way of attacking these problems.”

In October before the first meeting, he said the idea is to loosen up money in other areas in order to move that money into healthcare and higher education, the only two areas of the budget that are undedicated funds.

Much of the state’s budget is constitutionally dedicated, which means it cannot be touched. Reynolds says there’s very little money that can be moved around to plug holes in the budget if need be.

In April, Louisiana was facing a $1.6 billion shortfall. To close that gap, the legislature made cuts across the board and took away some tax rebates. By the end of the session, legislators passed a $25 billion budget. The fiscal year began July 1.