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Senate Committee Starts Pruning the Tax Exemption Tree

Sue Lincoln

As House members continue to dither over how to – or even if to – move ahead with comprehensive tax reform, the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee advanced several bills along those lines Monday.

“The state of Louisiana is looking to the Senate to try and figure out how we’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole,” Revenue and Fisc chairman J.P. Morrell told the committee. “And if we don’t tackle the issues that are somewhat controversial and push the dialog, you’re not even making industry come to the table to talk about how we’re going to afford it.”

Several of Morrell’s bills did get business and industry’s attention – in particular, SB 26, a proposed constitutional amendment to restrict part of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program.

“Like many other states that have an Industrial Tax Exemption Program, it simply provides that the educational component cannot be given away,” Morrell explained. “Right now, when we build these magnificent, giant plants that attract hundreds of workers, we’re not providing moneys to the school boards to educate the new kids.”

Kathy Waskom, a citizen activist, spoke in support of the measure requiring ITEP participants to still pay property tax millages that go to support public schools.

“Locally, we vote for school taxes, and we have watched throughout the years the Board of Commerce and Industry, a state board, simply remove our school taxes,” Waskom said. “We’ve been watching this happen over and over since 1996.”

Despite a sea of lobbyists urging Morrell to postpone or even kill the bill, prior to the start of the meeting, the official opposition ended up being pro forma.

“We have cards in opposition and do not wish to speak: Jim Patterson with LABI, Robert Schromm with the Louisiana Chemical Association,” committee vice-chair Eddie Lambert announced.

Morrell advised members that the bill would not impact current ITEP participants, only those seeking the exemptions after state voters get to weigh in on the idea. It was unanimously approved to advance to the full Senate.