Sunday Talk: State lawmakers Morrish, Johns discuss upcoming session

By By Bobby Dower / American Press

The regular session of the state Legislature convenes Monday and will run for 60 days.

State Sens. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, and Dan ‘‘Blade’’ Morrish, R-Jennings, discussed with the American Press some of the issues that will be addressed during the session.

American Press: What is your sense of what this upcoming session will be like?

Morrish: I think, obviously, we’ve got some big issues. And I think the big issue that we don’t talk about is the budget. It’s not

tax reform, it’s the budget.

I think that some of the proposals that

Rep. (Brett) Geymann (R-Moss Bluff) and the fiscal hawks have are good

proposals that

are getting major traction, a lot of support around the state and

in the Legislature. I think that they are on the right track,

and that’s not a topic of conversation any more even though I

think it should be.

Johns: I feel a great deal of anxiety amongst the Senate members who I have been visiting with, primarily about the budget that

we’re facing this year. This is my 14th year to serve in the Legislature and I think the greatest challenge that I’ve ever

seen is going to be the budget.

Remember the adage that your mother and daddy use to tell you: “Be careful what you wish for or in life you might get it.”

Well, I asked and worked pretty hard to get on the Senate Finance Committee. (laughter) And it’s turned into an incredible

challenge.

The budget this year is going to be

very much of a challenge because there are a lot of contingencies that

are built into

the governor’s executive budget. The governor is required to

present to the Legislature, which he did a few weeks ago, a balanced

budget, but the way that they have balanced the budget is based

on, first of all, a lot of one-time money and then second

of all on a lot of contingencies.

First on the sale of property. There’s about 47 or 48 million dollars built into the budget on the sale of certain properties

around Baton Rouge and maybe other parts of the state that the State owns now. Whether those actually come to fruition is

going to be a challenge.

I think the biggest contingency in the

budget that we are facing right now is this privatization of the LSU

Hospital System.

You stop and think, right here in Lake Charles, the Moss Regional

contract, there’s been a memorandum of understanding signed,

but there has not been a lease signed yet between (Lake Charles)

Memorial (Hospital), West Calcasieu-Cameron Hospital and

LSU. And those negotiations are still going on. There’s just a lot

of moving parts in that model and as small a part of the

system that Moss is, think about how big it becomes with

University Medical in Lafayette, Chabert in Houma, the Shreveport,

Alexandria, Monroe connection. So, none of that has actually been

put to bed. There are a lot of contingencies in the budgeting

process that are going to make it very, very difficult for us to

make it walk out of there with a balanced budget.

The good thing is that we have to

balance our budget in Louisiana. I think that’s a good thing. We cannot

do what Washington

does. We cannot borrow money; we can’t run a $16, 17 trillion

deficit like the federal government does. We have to balance

our budget, but how we balance it is going to be a big challenge. I

think Chairman (Jack) Donahue on the Senate side and Chairman

(Jim) Fannin on the House side really have their work cut out for

them this year.

The governor and leadership are pushing the tax reform issue. Is there a possibility that the budget and what the fiscal hawks

are pushing could eclipse that and could almost evolve into a life of its own and the governor’s tax reform package takes

a second seat to the budget?

Morrish:

I hadn’t thought about that, but I think that’s a good analogy. I think

that could well happen. When I go around to different

groups and speak to them, I make it clear that the budget is here

and the governor’s tax reform package is here and there’s

no connection. If we pass the governor’s tax reform package as it

is today, 100 percent, we’re still a billion dollars in

the hole. It doesn’t change the deficit at all. It doesn’t fix

that. It’s revenue neutral...It changes the way we get the

money and it will be the exact same amount of money because it’s

revenue neutral.

I think the fiscal hawks’ issues, they

have some great ideas and some good issues. Even if that were to pass

this year, I

don’t think that can be part of the budgeting process this coming

year. It’s probably for the future. They may disagree with

me on that, but I think it’s for the future.

I think Ronnie and I have spent a lot

of time with our delegation here and we’re extremely concerned about

health care and

higher education, especially McNeese and UL in Lafayette. They

can’t take many more cuts. So when we talk about the contingencies

and the holes, I don’t have another plan to fill those holes in

the contingencies. I don’t think Ronnie likes them. I don’t

think I like them. I don’t think the majority of our delegation,

including the Speaker (of the House, Chuck Kleckley) likes

them. But we have to balance the budget.

Balancing the budget with all of those

holes is going to be tough, but if we incorporate what the fiscal hawks

want to do,

then maybe we won’t see this mid-year cuts and we won’t see what

we’re having to do this year next year. We have to have a

little vision and look out a little further than where we are

today. The hawks will tell you, “You know how we got here? Because

you didn’t want to do what we wanted to do. And consequently

you’re plugging all these holes. If you do what we want to do,

you won’t have that problem.”

I think Rep. Geymann is extremely focused on that budget and his issues. He’s not going to let the conversation be taken over

by something else.

Johns:

I think the fiscal hawks are right on track on where we need to go in

this state. It’s at the point where 71 percent, 72

percent of our budget is dedicated to when we have to make those

cuts at mid-year or even when we debate the budget this session.

That only leaves us 30 percent of our budget that has

discretionary funds. Those discretionary funds are primarily health

care and higher education. I’m really concerned about our

education. Higher education has taken about a $489 million cut in

state general fund revenues in the last five years. The question

becomes how have they been able to even keep their doors

open? They’ve done it through tuition increases. But if you stop

and think about it, that’s just almost another fee or tax

on the backs of parents and children.

Right here at McNeese, we’re down about

$24 million in state general fund revenue from five years ago. Dr. Phil

Williams,

in my opinion, has been a magician. He has done an incredible job

of helping balance his budget. The tuition increases have

helped but the problem that we face at McNeese is that we’ve got

to compete with Lamar University right across the border.

They do a lot out of out-of-state tuition waivers and he doesn’t

have the ability to do that and so it has really created

a real challenge for McNeese to continue to keep its enrollment

base and its programs intact.

It’s becoming very difficult, not just

for McNeese but for any university in this state, to have a four-year

degree any more.

Those four-year degrees are rolling into five years. And it’s

because of a lack of classes and the lack of professors in certain

programs. I know it’s become difficult with these students to get

into a particular class that they need to graduate. And

so without completely doing away with an entire program at these

universities, they are having to cut back. So, that’s a real

challenge.

Health care — that’s always a real challenge, but there’s always a federal government involvement in health care with what’s

coming with the federal health care laws — the Obamacare coming on — you’re going to see a whole new direction in health

care and the way that money flows. But that’s not happening with higher education.

That’s really one of my major concerns — where do we go with higher education? And it’s not just McNeese, it’s Sowela. Sowela

is growing by leaps and bounds out there so that’s going to be one of my focuses sitting on Senate Finance Committee this

year is higher education. ...

Morrish:

Another subject is legislation to allow universities, not the

universities, but the systems, to decide what their tuition

is going to be and to take that authority away from the

Legislature. There are several bills filed to do that. Chairman (Steve)

Carter on the House and Chairman (Conrad) Appel on the Senate side

are leading that charge and I think there are several bills

that address the issue, some of which are somewhat connected to

one another.

For instance, not just giving the

university the tuition authority, but allow them to be flexible with the

tuition authority,

whether they can charge by the credit hour. You take a student who

takes 15 hours as opposed to one that takes 18. The guy

who is taking 18 is using more of the facilities and is using more

of the university than the guy that is taking 15. If they

have a program that is just excellent — for example McNeese is one

of the only Ag programs left in the state — they may be

able to get a few more dollars for that because they are the only

ones left. If it’s another university that has an excellent

engineering — maybe chemical or petroleum engineering at UL in

Lafayette and mechanical and electrical at McNeese, you may

be able to get a little more for that. And it requires more.

There’s labs involved as opposed to business or journalism where

you don’t require more. The universities can look at that and get

an idea of where they want to go.

I think in conjunction with that — and I

have a bill and I think there are others — we’re going to have to cap

the TOPS program

because as Ronnie says, we raise the tuition, we’ve cut the

universities and we’ve allowed them to raise tuition, but the

minute we do that we pay for it with TOPS. It comes out of the

general fund. I think we have to cap TOPS but I think you can’t

do it without giving the universities the ability to set tuition

because that sets up a competition. Now we have a cap. If

Dr. Williams, the magician that he is as Ronnie as said, can

figure out how to offer courses at or under the cap, then he

forces Dr. (Joe) Savoie at UL-Lafayette to do the same. And he may

choose, “I may get more for Ag because Savoie doesn’t have

one, but I can get a few dollars more because I’ve got the only

program and I want it to continue to be here and to continue

to function and that creates the competition amongst all the

universities to try to stay under the cap.”

LSU may choose to say, “We’re the

flagship of the university; we don’t have to be under the cap; we’re

going to charge you

more.” That makes a parent say, “John, why don’t you go to

McNeese?:” And I think that helps McNeese and the smaller universities

and I think it helps LSU since Dr.(Mark) Emmert was there and has

been telling us they are overcrowded at LSU. They’ve got

too many students. And yet we have some fine universities that

certainly could help our situation by students moving to the

University of Louisiana System or the Southern System and getting

out of LSU, yet leave LSU whole and help the other universities.

And, keep the state from having to take the whole responsibility.

Now there is a third part to that and

that is the state has to continue — they can’t drop below the level

where they are at

least today in funding higher ed. They have to at least continue

either at or above where they are today. I think it’s a three-legged

stool but it works.

Johns: Sen.

Morrish and I were there when we created the TOPS program and it’s been

wonderful. We’ve got people from all over the

country that talk to us about how we did it and how it has worked,

but the cost has gone from about 30 million the first year

to this coming fiscal year, we’re going to be over $ 200 million

in costs. As tuition rises, the cost of TOPS rises.

There’s another component in there that

people are starting to talk about with their colleagues. Legislation

last year in

the governor’s education package mandated that every student had

to take the ACT test. I think what’s going to happen is you

are going to start seeing the average ACT drop a little bit

statewide. And when that happens, that is going to have an impact

on how many people can get into the TOPS program. That remains to

be seen; that’s just speculation of what might happen with

the average ACT score. But the other interesting concept — and Dr.

Williams has been a huge proponent of this — is to allow

some flexibility in tuition cost of certain programs; for example,

the college of engineering or the nursing school. Those

are high cost programs to administer. It costs a lot of money to

hire an engineering professor or nursing professor. He would

like that flexibility to allow to charge a little higher tuition

in those courses and in doing so, when these students graduate

out of those programs, they are going into a very well paying jobs

right out of college. He has been a proponent of that.

I think that may gain some traction at some point and time.

The governor’s refusal to participate in the expansion in Medicaid, what is your take on that?

Morrish: Sen.

Johns serves on the Insurance Committee and I’m the chairman of it. On

the Senate side, we had hearings a couple of weeks

ago. Of course Obamacare is not very popular, but that being said,

it’s the law of the land. And in 2014 it is supposedly

going to kick in full fledge. There is a portion of Obamacare that

we can’t do anything about — probably the largest portion

of it. You go through explanation and you get to a point where

this much of the law and this is what you’re going to abide

by. And then there’s the state portion which is the exchanges,

which we are not going to do. We’re going to use a federal

exchange and we’ve about decided that may be OK. The unfortunate

thing is it doesn’t look like the federal exchange will be

ready and the states that have proposed to do their own exchanges,

no one from HHS (Health and Human Services) has approved

them. So maybe we’re no worse than those who have done one or who

haven’t done one.

But Medicaid expansion is the other

issue that I think is getting a lot of talk. We’ve heard forever that it

was too expensive,

that it was going to cost the state an unbelievable amount of

money, even though the feds were paying 100 percent for three

years and 90 percent for after that. We’ve heard some numbers

coming out of DHH that we shouldn’t expand. After our joint

Insurance Committee the other day, purely by accident we received

information. We asked a lot of questions about the hidden

cost for business. After it, we get a bulletin from Jackson Hewitt

that there’s a lot of hidden costs from business, maybe

even 500 million (dollars) for businesses in Louisiana if you

don’t have Medicaid expansion. So you have that issue sitting

on the table and then two weeks after our hearings the Department

of Health and Hospitals comes out and said now they’ve decided

it actually will save Louisiana money.

The problem is we don’t know and I’m

not sure who to ask because I’m not sure who does. If we could expand

Medicaid and get

more people insured, then I think that’s a great thing. It’s a

good thing for our local hospitals, it’s a good thing for our

local physicians, for people to have Medicaid or insurance under

the exchanges.

Of course, that has a lot to do with

rates. I’m not digging that deep in the weeds right now. But I’m

beginning to believe

Medicaid expansion may be the right way to go if I can get the

right information to make that decision. And that information

varies depending on who you are talking to. But I see more and

more states getting on board with the expansions. ...

We need to find a way to take care of

people who can’t take care of themselves and even the working uninsured.

There are people

who work hard but don’t make enough money to buy insurance and

they qualify for Medicaid. Of course, if the feds pay for it,

but it’s you and I who are paying for it.

I think that’s the issue. There’s a cost. There’s a cost also of not doing it. And I don’t think you can put your fingers

on that cost but there’s absolutely a cost.

It’s always published and we see it all

the time that we have such an unhealthy population. I used to hear

quite often that

we had these unbelievably high cancer in Louisiana. We had these

high cancer rates. The fact of the matter is if you go look

at the cancer centers and the Center for Cancer in New Orleans

will tell you that we have about an average rate of cancer

in Louisiana. As a matter of fact, Hawaii has a much higher rate

than we do. We’re about in the middle. Our death rate from

cancer is the highest in the nation because we don’t go to the

doctor. We’ve got a lot of poor people or people who can’t

afford to go to the doctor who have just traditionally haven’t

gone because they haven’t had the ability to take care of it

and see the doctor.

I think Medicaid expansion could speak to that quite a bit.

Johns:

There’s going to be great debate in this session about (this). There’s

no doubt. From what I’ve seen, if we do agree to get

into the Medicaid expansion, we would have somewhere between 45

and 47 percent of the population of Louisiana who would actually

be eligible to participate in it.

I don’t want to use the word poor

state, but we have lower income people in our state. The reluctance has

been, I don’t know

about Louisiana, but those states that have chosen not to

participate are saying, “Fine, the federal government is going to

pay 100 percent for the first three years and 90 percent after

that.” But the reluctance is what if the federal government

just bails out of this program down the road somewhere? And then

we have this huge population in Louisiana that we absolutely

could not afford on our own or with a much smaller contribution

from the federal government.

The budget hole that we are facing now

has a lot to do with Medicaid. Our federal contribution rate has gone

from 75 percent

down to about 67 percent and that happened after we left session

last year. We left session last year thinking we had a pretty

good balanced budget and in a heartbeat, by the stroke of a pen in

Washington, we were left with a $897 million hole because

they said, “We are cutting your Medicaid contribution.”

And I think that’s the reluctance — the

fear that a lot of states have, not just Louisiana, and if that is what

happens five

years from now or 10 years from now and we’re really in a pickle

at that point. There’s going to be a lot of debate. I have

no doubt.

On

public education, there’s not going to be any roll back on vouchers or

on tenure to the way it was before, but do you think

either one of those programs, now that they’ve been in effect for a

year and people have seen the difference between theory

and application, there might be some tweaks?

Morrish:

I haven’t looked at all the bills that have been filed. I hear that

there are some filed. Of course, all of those issues

are in the court system right now. And the governor has made it

very clear that if those are upheld, he’s going to call a

special session. I believe he’s taking a chance calling a special

session. Some of that could be, I don’t think totally undone,

but there would be a lot of issues that would be on the table that

they would have to face that need desperately to be changed.

Issues that were addressed or at least

an attempt to address in last year’s session and they just ignored those

pleas by a

lot of experienced people in education. Maybe the best thing would

be a special session, but I don’t think he’s going to come

out with the same product that passed last year. If the Supreme

Court overrules, the lower court that’s a different subject

and we move on. Then I think you’ll see a huge amount of bills

filed, probably in the regular session for next year, to address

some of those issues. I don’t think the whole thing is going to be

thrown out. I don’t even think the education community

thinks that tenure as it was is a good thing. But I think there

are issues that have to be tweaked. As you said, in practicality,

they have not worked out.

What bothers me the most is the head of

the (Education) department at McNeese told me at an event the other

night he’s had

a decrease of 120 students in the education department. I asked

him, “What I really would like to know is how many left the

university to work or went someone else and how many changed

majors?” He said most had changed majors. ... That to me is telling.

If we don’t have young people going into education, it used to be

that we had educators whose children became educators. I

hear that they are discouraging their children from doing that.

We have educators who are retiring and

we’re having a hard time getting teachers, especially in high school

chemistry and

math. I think it’s going to get very serious. I don’t think it’s

entirely about the legislation that was passed, but it has

a whole lot to add to it.

I think a lot of them are concerned

about their retirement, although we didn’t touch teacher retirement, but

there are still

concerns. ... I think there needs to be some stability and some

hard ground for teachers to put their feet on that they can

count on going forward.

Johns:

Every one of us who has served in the Legislature is for education. We

want the best education for our kids. Sen. Morrish

and I don’t have the luxury of voting for an idea or a concept. We

have to vote for specifically what’s in pieces of legislation.

And that’s sometimes what the public doesn’t realize. They say,

“You voted against this.” Well, let me tell you why.

I think that’s what happened last year.

We both voted against the governor’s education package last year. We

studied those

pieces of legislation. I think we made those votes based on the

impact on Southwest Louisiana. We have good school systems

here. Now, if I lived in New Orleans, or East Baton Rouge Parish

or I lived in Caddo Parish or other parts of this state,

I may have thought differently. But as I looked at our public

school system, I said, “It’s really not broken.” It was a dramatic

change to the way we were going to do certain things.

We didn’t hear just from teachers last

year. We heard from a lot of business people; we heard from a lot of

parents who were

very, very skeptical about making these huge changes in our public

education system and how it was going to affect our children

and our teachers right here in Calcasieu. I feel like we

represented our constituency when we made those votes last year.

There’s going to be a lot of tweaks

proposed on both sides. I think the opponents from last year and even

the proponents from

last year want to make some tweaks to this. I think my good

friend, Sen. Morrish, had a comment after the session last year

that we’re going to be making a lot of changes in this for years

to come. Maybe the governor designed it like that, that we

would be making changes to these programs. But there’s no doubt

going to be a lot of discussion in education committees on

both sides this year.

Morrish:

I’ll have to step in and say that I agree with Ronnie 100 percent on

the issue on Southwest Louisiana and the four parishes

I represent. Ronnie represents Calcasieu. There’s some pretty good

school systems here. They’re not perfect. There are some

F schools. But we have some pretty good school systems and most of

them are making unbelievable good progress with those F

schools and their other schools. To take our teachers and our

education community and lump them with parishes that don’t have

(good performances) is just absolutely unfair and more

importantly, doesn’t recognize the value that we have here.

As Ronnie says, he named the parishes.

Let’s focus on where it’s really needed and make sure our guys

continuing to progress.

I’m not sure we’re going to see that any more. I’m not sure we’re

going to see the progression that was working. Even by the

governor’s own standards, if you look at the four parishes that I

represent, and include Allen and Beauregard, the old Imperial

Calcasieu — if you look at that and look at where our numbers were

10 years ago and look where our numbers are today, they’ve

all improved and continue to improve. You had an education

community that had bought in to that and were working very, very

hard and we’re saying good things. Were there still some F

schools? Yeah. The superintendent here was focusing a lot of money

and a lot of resources into those F schools.

We don’t really know where they are

going to be. I think one of the biggest flaws is when you have an F

school and you have

the ability to move out of that F school, with a voucher to go to

another public school, private school, charter school, I

think that’s wonderful. I think it’s a good thing. And it’s

working well. The problem is in order to get that voucher, somebody,

a parent, a grandparent, a guardian, has to go to the school board

or to the school and say, “I need to know how to get my

child out of this situation.” Those that don’t have a parent or a

guardian that are interested in their education, who is

left at the F school? The most needy of the most needy. And

consequently, the school doesn’t get better, it gets worse because

the good kids, are gone.

I think we are running away from the

issue instead of facing the issue head on. I’m glad that those parents

are able to move

their children, that they have that opportunity. I think that’s

important. At the same time, we have to remember, who is left.

That’s the one we seem to have forgotten about. The school is

still an F and you still can’t get teachers to go there. ...

Johns:

Education has got to start at home. I asked Superintendent (John) White

in a committee hearing last year if he knew of a

specific state in America in all of his travels that been able to

address the issue of parent involvement in their kids’ education.

And he had to reluctantly tell me no. He had never seen anyone be

able to legislatively do that.

I don’t know how we do that

legislatively. We can pass all the laws in the world but that doesn’t

mean the parents really

care about their children’s education. They either care or they

don’t care. Most do care. So we’re lucky in that sense. But

it’s got to start at home.

What is your sense of where the governor’s tax reform is now and how members of the state Legislature feel about it?

Morrish: I have a hard time finding anybody who thinks this is the most wonderful thing in the world.

Even constituents?

Morrish: I

haven’t had a constituent or a man on the street — now let me back up

and qualify that — everybody, including myself, thinks

that doing away with the state income tax is a wonderful thing. I

can’t find anybody who says, “Oh, no, we shouldn’t do that.”

I believe everybody agrees that doing away with the state income

tax, if we can do it, is a good thing.

How you replace that revenue is the big

issue. And they all understand that. When you start talking about a

state sales tax

of 6.25 percent, and increase of 2-1/4 percent, then that becomes

another issue. That’s when people go, “Whoa, wait a minute.”

I haven’t had any business people come to me and say, “Boy, we

really need this.” Even they say, “I will be glad to continue

to pay my corporate income tax compared to what this proposal is.”

I think doing away with the income tax is OK; it’s the

issue of replacing the revenue.

And then the numbers are all over the

charts. It’s 5.88 (percent) one day, it’s 6.25 the next. I don’t know

where it’s going

to be tomorrow. You have some people that are exempt, some that

are not exempt. Some that are going to be new taxpayers who

haven’t been in the past. When I talk to people, they say, I pay

income tax, but this guy over here does all of his business

in cash. He doesn’t pay any income tax. I’d rather be on a level

playing field. I like that idea. But do we have to raise

the sales tax to do that and then cause others who aren’t paying

sales tax now do that. It’s an increase on all state employees

who are retired. They don’t pay now income tax and even some

federal retirees don’t pay state income tax. And then there’s

an exemption for, I think it’s $8,000 on your retirement income if

you are retired from business or industry.

I just think it’s a whole lot to bite off and chew in a 60-day session.

Johns: I listen to my constituency very clearly and I can tell you the vast majority of people I have heard from, both business

people and the individuals, do not think it’s a good idea. They just, first of all, as Sen. Morrish said, would love to do

away with the state income tax, but it’s the unknown that they are worried about.

We have a unique situation here in

Calcasieu (in) that we are a border parish. I can tell you that a lot of

major retailers

here that have talked to me are very much against it because a

consumer can drive 20 miles across into Texas possibly and

buy something cheaper than they can maybe buy it here. Another

issue is that we have a very large tourist industry. Our hotel/motel

business has grown tremendously over the years, primarily because

of the casino business, but also because of the growth in

the industrial base. The hotel/ motel people are very concerned

about their ability to bring (in) a convention compared (to)

if they have to compete on a five million (dollar) convention

coming in, If they have to compete with another state, that

charges a lot less in sales tax. They are very, very concerned

about that.

And then the retirees are concerned

that it shifts the tax base to them. As Sen. Morrish talked about,

public retirees do

not have to pay state income tax. There’s a whole lot of concerns

and I think the fact the governor’s plans change from day-to-day

has just given a whole lot of pause in the Legislature.

In my opinion, I think this is

something that should have been discussed, thought out, worked on for a

minimum of one year.

Whatever we do this year in the Legislature is going to have a

long-term effect on the state of Louisiana. It’s not like we

can come back next year and redo the whole thing. It’s

far-reaching; it’s long term and it’s just something that we’ve got

to really look at.

We talk about Texas not having a

personal income tax. They don’t. But go over there and see what you are

going to pay in property

tax. Many people’s property tax bills in Texas are higher than

their house notes. That’s a fact.

That 3.6 billion (dollars) that is

eliminated by doing away with the income tax — that money has got to

come from somewhere.

I’ve had people talk to me and say they don’t mind paying another 2

cents of sales tax and I said, “If it was only what we

pay sales tax on today that would be fine. But where the real

change and the real growth in sales tax revenue is going to

come from is all those area where we pay no sales tax on today.”

So we’re not talking about an extra two-and-a-quarter cents,

we’re talking about an extra six-and-a-quarter percent of sales

tax on a lot of issues.

I know that...we’re getting ready to have this explosion in industrial growth in Calcasieu Parish. The industries are very,

very concerned about what services are going to be taxed. There are some questions that nobody on the state level, even as

of today, can clearly answer those questions.

I think going into the session, the problem that the governor is going to have is going to be the unknown. The legislators

don’t feel like they have every answer and that those answers are moving from day-to-day.

Morrish: That’s what I spoke about to the Crowley Chamber of Commerce the other day. About 200 people. The biggest question was “why?”

If you look at government watchdog groups and tax groups, Louisiana is about in the middle; we have a little sales tax; we

have a little income tax and a little property tax. We’re kind of out there in the middle.

Now the governor has said and I agree that our tax code is complicated. I think we ought to work on the complications and

exemptions. We looked at a lot of those and we should continue to.

We get this constant changing of whose in and whose out and who is going to be taxed and who is not going to be taxed and

different numbers, going from 5.88 to 6.25 (percent). I hear that might even change. I believe there is a credibility gap.

I’m hearing people saying, “What is the real number?” It’s a little bit like Medicaid expansion. I don’t know that I know

the real number.

I voted three times I guess in the last

term against Sen.(Rob) Marionneaux’s phase out of the income tax over

10 years. Three

times I voted against it because I didn’t think he had a clear

idea of how we were going to replace it. And now I file a bill

because I think it makes a whole lot more sense compared to what

the proposal is now.

Let’s phase it out over 10 years.

Every year we have to deal with a tenth. I think that’s manageable. We

may not have to

increase the sales tax if you look at every exemption. That’s

another thing you can do over a phase-out. You can go to those

people who have exemptions — and I don’t have that in the bill —

the bill simply says phase it out over 10 years because the

Legislature’s responsibility, we know, (the) finance committee and

appropriation committee would know this year that we would

have to get rid of one-tenth and we would have to do a swap.

Maybe we would look at some exemptions and go to that business

and simply say we’re going to cut that exemption 50 percent and

we’re going to do it over five years. Businesses can understand

that; they can make their case, but there is a dialogue, there’s

real numbers. There’s a chance to see if they are earning

that exemption and how much they are really putting in our

coffers.

The television/movie film tax credits,

there’s a litany of them that we can go through. Ronnie was on a

committee that they

looked at but then, I don’t know, maybe the cigarette tax takes

care of two-tenths so now we’re two years out in front. It

just gives everyone a little more breathing room, a little more

security. Business wants security. I think businessmen just

want to know.

When we talk about the complications,

look at all these businesses that are coming to Southwest Louisiana.

Their accountants

have gotten through that complication and they get to the bottom

line. They looked at the bottom line and they said, “This

isn’t bad. I had to pay that accountant to do it, but I’ve got to

pay him in every other state. I’ve got to figure it out.”

It’s a little more complicated and a little harder, but I think to

do it with sales tax swap, I think we’re complicating it.

Now if you make less than 20,000 (dollars) you get a voucher to

allow you not to pay the sales tax or to get your sales tax

back. ...

People are going to be paying the taxes, but not filing to get their rebate. You have to be involved and paying attention

to what you’re doing.

I think we can do this, but I think we can do this in a much better, organized, with an open debate, for everyone to sit at

the table.

We can take a year to look at oil and gas taxes and how they get their money and what exemptions they get and how much that

puts back in our coffers. Let’s talk about that for a year. What’s wrong with that?

What about local government? They know if this goes through, they’ll never get a tax increase passed, they may see some of

their renewals defeated.

Morrish: I’m meeting with the Jeff Davis Parish School Board today (April 2). That’s one of their big concerns. Normally what they

do is they get a little sales tax and a little property tax and everybody pays. They are very concerned.

I believe it’s not a bad idea. If you do the one-tenth a year — and look, I called Rob Marionneaux and apologized. I plagiarized

his bill. Three times I voted against it and went to the mic against it and now I’m going to file it because it makes more

sense.

Johns: Let’s just say they are off by $ 200 million. In the whole scheme of a $25 billion budget, we had 200 million. But when you

start talking about health care and you start talking about federal reimbursement, that 200 million turns into 500 million

in our health care because it (the 200 million) attracts (federal) money. When we don’t have the 200 million to draw down

that federal match, then that 200 million goes to 500 million. So, it’s a lot more.

Again, I say, we cannot vote for an idea or a concept. We’ve got to vote for what’s in the legislation and I think that’s

what we’re going to be looking at very closely, if the legislation gets over to the Senate side.

Morrish: Look, I have to commend the governor for bringing up the idea, but when you back up a little bit and you look at the education

initiative, depending on who you talk (to), in my opinion, didn’t quite work like they said — this seems to be more of the

same. We can’t tolerate more of the same. We were talking about children before and that’s pretty darn important. But now

we’re talking about dollars and that could effect education and a whole lot more.