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Bid to unravel Louisiana’s tax compromise fails in Senate

By MELINDA DESLATTEMay 30, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana senators late Wednesday scuttled a bid to roll back the hard-fought, seven-year tax compromise struck by state lawmakers last year, ending House Republican efforts to sizably shrink the dollars available in the state treasury.

The Senate tax committee shelved House GOP leader Lance Harris’ proposal for an early phase-out of the sales tax that formed the compromise’s centerpiece. Opponents said it’s too soon to start meddling with a tax deal that stabilized state finances.

“I think it’s ill-timed to bring a bill after one year,” said Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, a Lafayette Democrat. “This is what we agreed to, to help those people throughout the state.”

The House-backed bill would have gradually reduced the 0.45% portion of Louisiana’s 4.45% state sales tax over four years. It would have been nearly eliminated by mid-2023, lessening state tax collections by an estimated $348 million.

Gov. John Bel Edwards opposes efforts to eliminate or lower the tax before its planned mid-2025 expiration, saying it would undermine a compromise reached after seven special sessions that ended years of budget instability.

The majority-Democrat Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee voted 6-2 against the bill, killing it for the session.

Harris, of Alexandria, argued recent surpluses show Louisiana taxes are too high and Edwards and the majority-Republican Legislature passed more than are needed. He said Louisiana is receiving $2 billion-plus more from taxes and fees than five years ago.

“Maybe it’s time we give the taxpayers a break,” Harris said. “We have been, in my opinion, on somewhat of a tax binge.”

Even though the proposal won’t reach the governor’s desk, Republicans have used it to hammer Edwards on taxes in an election year where he faces two GOP challengers.

GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully proposed a series of bills aimed at scaling back parts of last year’s tax compromise. But they ran into a roadblock of opposition in the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee.

The panel earlier this session killed a separate proposal aimed at reworking the sales tax by steering some of the money to road and bridge work. On Tuesday, Republican Rep. John Stefanski, of Crowley, pulled from consideration his legislation aimed at undoing cuts to a hefty tax break for businesses’ utility costs. The House-approved bill faced certain defeat with the Senate committee.

Voting to shelve Harris’ bill Wednesday were Boudreaux and Sens. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, D-Baton Rouge; Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales; Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria; Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans; and Gary Smith, D-Norco.

Voting against shelving the bill were Republican Sens. Neil Riser of Columbia and Dale Erdey of Livingston.

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House Bill 599: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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