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Sunday Talk: State lawmakers Morrish, Johns discuss upcoming session

Last Modified: Saturday, April 06, 2013 6:49 PM

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.

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