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Legislative Roundup: Budget compromise taking shape, without Jindal

Last Modified: Monday, May 06, 2013 9:33 PM

By Lance Traweek / American Press By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Legislative bills designed to give House members some tools to reform the budget process were reported unfavorably here Monday by the House Ways and Means Committee, but they can still be used as vehicles to achieve the reforms.

Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, chairman, said the bills allow a coalition of conservative Republicans, Democrats and the Legislative Black Caucus to continue discussions about the need to replace one-time and other funds removed from the budget.

"There's things about the budget discussion that give everybody heartburn," Robideaux said. Change means there will be some parts of reform that not everyone will like, he said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a $24.7 billion budget, but it contained $490 million in revenues that are one-time money and that are contingent on actions that haven't happened yet. That money was removed by the House Appropriations Committee in order to send the budget bill to the Senate for reworking.

House members rejected that plan, saying they wanted to make those decisions. They gave themselves some bills they can use to restore the $490 million.

One reduces the severance tax rate on oil produced from inactive wells from 12.5 to 6.25 percent. Another creates a tax registry and establishes rebate programs.

Robideaux has one that raises the state sales tax from 4 to 6.25 percent, but he said it won't be used for that purpose. Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, has a measure that would reduce tax exemptions by 5 percent.

Montoucet said higher education has been cut for four or five years, and those affected by his legislation would still keep 95 percent of their exemptions.

"It's a small price to pay to serve the people of the state," he said.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, has legislation that would reduce tax credits and rebates. The reductions would range from 5 to 15 percent.

Other bills change the Enterprise Zone Program and reduce the rebate companies receive from inventory taxes.

Rep. Dee Richard, I-Thibodaux, has a measure reducing the state sales tax from 4 to 2.88 percent.

Tim Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue, complained that the public is out of the loop on what the reformers are proposing.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, said, "Now you know how we feel." He was talking about the governor not being transparent in some of his operations.

Barfield said the Jindal administration is concerned about the full impact of the reform effort. He added he has "grave concerns" about what will be done with the bills on the floor of the House.

John LeBlanc with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Bob Israel with the Louisiana Auto Dealers Association said they were both concerned about the impact of the reform effort on businesses and industries.

Lawmakers sponsoring the bills said they are a work in progress and a lot of discussion will still be taking place.

Reps. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, Julie Stokes, R-Metairie and Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, spoke against the proposed bills. They said they were worried about the effect they would have on affected businesses. Broadwater said the dairy industry in his area is hurting and this could wipe them out.

Stephen Moret, secretary of the state Department of Economic Development, said he is gravely concerned about the business image of the state. This movement hurts their competitive advantages, he said.

Moret said Gov. Jindal had some of these same bills, but he was proposing to eliminate state income taxes to make the tax increases revenue-neutral.

Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said, "We are concerned about business impacts, but these are instruments to move us forward. Punting to the Senate is not an option."

Gasoline tax proposal narrowly defeated

A proposal to tie the state's gasoline tax to the Consumer Price Index was narrowly defeated 8-7 here Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, was one of the eight members voting against the bill.

Rep. Karen Gaudet St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, is sponsor of House Bill 675. She is chairman of the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee.

St. Germain wanted to link only 16 cents of the state's 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax to the CPI. The other 4 cents is being used to pay off bonds that helped finance four-laning of a number of highways in the state.

The legislation would have raised $148.5 million over the next five years. St. Germain said Louisiana is one of the seven states with the lowest gasoline taxes.

The transportation committee has visited every region of the state, and St. Germain said its scary to hear about the highway needs in every area.

It takes five years to get a highway overlaid, she said, and new construction is almost non-existent. There is a $12 billion highway construction backlog, she said.

The 16-cent tax was passed in 1984 and it wasn't indexed. If it had been, it would be 71 cents today, she said.

The Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association said the gasoline tax doesn't grow with the economy or with rising prices.

Derrell Cohoon, a consultant with the Louisiana Association of General Contractors, said rural roads got some one-time funding, but other needs have gone wanting.

Other speakers said the federal government is also in bad shape and there won't be any help coming from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

It was reported that eight states are indexing their gasoline taxes and 23 states are increasing highway funding. Businesses look at infrastructure when they decide where to locate, one supporter said.

Opponents included the Louisiana Motor Transport Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The following items have been complied from Associated Press stories.

Medicaid expansion bill headed for budget review

A proposal for Louisiana to tap into the federal health overhaul money available for expanding Medicaid has been steered to the Senate budget committee for review.

The measure would require the state health department to seek federal approval for a program using the expansion dollars to provide private insurance.

The bill by New Orleans Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat, has received the backing of the Senate's health committee. It was reassigned Monday to the Senate Finance Committee.

The measure seeks to provide health insurance coverage to adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — less than $32,000 for a family of four — as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government would pay for most of the coverage.

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the expansion.

House OKs shielding some guns from federal laws

Although no manufacturer exists in Louisiana, the House backed a proposal that would allow gun buyers and sellers to circumvent any federal firearm ban if the gun was manufactured in the state.

The proposal by Republican Rep. Joe Lopinto would create the "Louisiana Manufactured Firearms and Ammunition Act," providing for state licensing and regulations instead of federal oversight.

The bill was approved 75-20, primarily along party lines with Republicans supporting and members of the Legislative Black Caucus in opposition. It heads to the Senate.

Louisiana State Police estimates it would cost $2.2 million to set up the licensing and $600,000 annually afterwards. Legislative fiscal analysts say they can't corroborate the estimates because it's unclear if any companies would seek the license.

House, Senate delay Jindal's retirement plan shift

Both the House and Senate unanimously agreed Monday to delay by one year the start of Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to shift future rank-and-file state workers to a 401(k)-style retirement plan.

A suspension of the law until July 1, 2014, would give lawmakers time to have some outstanding issues resolved.

A district court judge has ruled the retirement plan unconstitutional. That ruling is on appeal. Meanwhile, leaders of two state retirement systems have raised concerns about tax implications.

The retirement change, approved by lawmakers last year, created an investment account similar to a 401(k) plan for certain state employees hired after July 1. That would stand in place of a monthly retirement payment based on salary and years of employment.

No legislation has made it through both chambers and received final passage yet, however. The House version (House Concurrent Resolution 2) heads to the Senate for debate, while the Senate version (Senate Concurrent Resolution 1) moves to the House.

Delay on school performance grades, disciplinary effects

The House agreed Monday to two separate bills that would delay the use of a new formula for calculating school performance grades and the disciplinary effects of a new statewide teacher evaluation program.

The new accountability formula, which would include ACT test scores at the high school, would have been applied to school and district performance scores released later this year.

Instead, the proposal (House Bill 466) by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, would require the state to use the same formula and accountability policies applied in the 2011-12 school year until the House and Senate Education committees approve any change.

The bill passed in a 70-28 vote and heads to the Senate for debate.

Meanwhile, a measure (House Bill 160) by Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, garnered unanimous support for postponing for one year the use of evaluations in determining the effectiveness of teachers for retention or termination.

Proposal for RSD schools to return to local control

A proposal that would allow schools taken over by the Recovery School District to be returned back to local control if that school has earned a "D'' or "F'' for three consecutive years was unanimously approved by the House.

Under the bill (House Bill 115) proposed by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, schools could be returned to local school system's control if parents of a majority of the students sign a petition making the request.

The measure moves to the Senate for debate.

Community and technical college financing

The community and technical college system would be able to get construction financing outside of the traditional budget process, under a bill backed by the Senate in a 30-6 vote, over the opposition of the state's top higher education board.

The measure (Senate Bill 204) by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, moves to the House for discussion. Adley described the need for upgrades and expansion as "dire."

The Board of Regents, which oversees all higher education managing boards, opposes the bill as an end-run around the regular construction budget process that all other public colleges must follow.

Ban on drivers using social media

An attempt to ban posting to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites while driving is nearing final passage in the Louisiana Legislature.

The proposal, approved Monday by the House transportation committee, is designed to close what lawmakers call a loophole in the state law that prohibits texting and driving.

The Senate-approved bill would add accessing, reading and posting to social media sites to the prohibition. It heads next to the full House.

Livingston Sen. Dale Erdey, the Republican sponsor of the bill, says he's trying to cut down on distracted driving and improve public safety.

If passed into law, violators would face a fine up to $175 for the first offense and up to $500 for second and subsequent violations.

Other legislative action

• The Senate voted 33-2 for a proposal that would remove a requirement that judges retire after reaching age 70 and completing their current terms. The bill (Senate Bill 5) heads to the House for debate. If approved there, the constitutional change also would require approval from voters in a statewide election.

• Standstill budgets to finance the operations of legislative agencies and the state court system received backing from the House Appropriations Committee without objection. The budget to finance the House, Senate and other legislative agencies in the fiscal year that begins July 1 would remain at $93 million. The budget to finance the operations of many state courts, including the Louisiana Supreme Court, would stay at $163 million. The proposals (House Bills 687 and 691) move to the full House for debate.

• The House voted 58-33 for a bill that would allow annual 4 percent pay raises to parish clerks of court for the next four years. The salary boosts could cost up to $1.2 million over four years, and would only be allowed if clerks complete an annual certification and maintain the certification. The proposal (House Bill 174) by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, moves to the Senate for debate.

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