House Lawmakers Question Their Own Staff On Tax Estimates

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers in the House on Friday held a first-ever hearing to review tax estimates from its nonpartisan financial analysts' office.

         Several House Republicans — and the Democratic chairman of the House tax committee — said they are concerned their economists have low-balled estimates of how much sales tax changes could raise.

         They called the Legislative Fiscal Office into a special hearing to ask their staff to explain how they reached their conclusions.

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         In the contentious meeting, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said he worried numbers built into the estimates were arbitrarily picked.

         "We could talk among ourselves and pick out a number, too," Abramson said at one point.

         Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter defended his two economists, saying they were highly-respected and had years of experience. He said the estimates of what tax changes could raise were deliberately conservative in a state amid an economic downturn.

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         "You're getting our best professional judgment," Carpenter said.

         He noted estimates of tax changes made last year were overly optimistic, and lawmakers have been unhappy with the gaps that caused in the state's budget.

         The estimates made by the Legislative Fiscal Office are being used to build the state's budget rebalancing, as lawmakers meeting in a special legislative session decide how deeply to cut and how much to raise taxes to close a hefty financial gap before June 30.

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         Some House lawmakers hope the sales tax proposals could generate more money than currently projected, to keep them from voting for more taxes.

         Carpenter and his staff said they will continue to adjust the financial estimates as they gather more information, as they always do during legislative sessions.



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