Lawmakers Could Lose Business Group's Support For Tax Votes

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Tax votes that lawmakers took to balance this year's budget may cost them the support of Louisiana's leading business lobbying group in the fall elections.

         The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, known as LABI, released its legislative scorecard Tuesday, grading the performance of lawmakers based on specific votes taken during the recent legislative session.

         Many lawmakers who previously received high scores instead got failing marks this time, mainly because they voted to scale back tax breaks for businesses, to plug gaps in the budget. Sixty-one percent of House members and 77 percent of senators received an "F."

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         Camille Conaway, the organization's vice president for policy and research, said the scorecard is the main tool that LABI's four regional political action committees use to determine which candidates they will endorse — and to which campaigns they'll contribute.

         "This gives them a lot of in-depth guidance on how (lawmakers) voted on the issues that mattered," Conaway said.

         Legislative elections are Oct. 24.

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         Many Republicans who tend to score well with the business organization and who tout their pro-business marks in campaigns performed poorly on this year's scorecard and are at risk of losing the LABI backing they have previously received. In tight elections, that could be a blow to a campaign.

         The organization's four PACs are even considering tweaking their rules to make it tougher to receive LABI support.

         Previously, any lawmaker who supported 75 percent of LABI's issues across their four-year terms received an automatic endorsement from their regional PAC.

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         But that would mean some legislators who received failing scores this year because of their tax votes could still have achieved the automatic endorsement threshold, so the organization's four PACs are reconsidering their rules. The individual boards for each PAC, made up of business leaders in the region, will decide in the next few weeks, Conaway said.

         "I think there will certainly be some endorsements of legislators who did vote for taxes," Conaway said. "But by and large, the PACs really wanted to have some discretion."

         No matter the scores, Conaway said the PACs could still decide to endorse and financially support candidates on an individual basis, depending on their positions on key LABI initiatives and the makeup of districts and candidate pools.

         Senators were graded on 21 pieces of legislation considered in their chamber, while House members were judged on 28. Some were LABI-backed bills that steered more money to roadwork and that would have given public college systems more authority over their tuition and fees. But the larger focus was on tax votes.

         Lawmakers said the hundreds of millions of dollars they raised through tax changes were needed to stop deep cuts to public colleges and public health care services in the fiscal year that began July 1.

         In a written statement about the scorecard, LABI President Stephen Waguespack said the approach was short-sighted and harmful to businesses that are paying increased taxes.

         "The Louisiana Legislature not only failed to structure the tax increases to minimize harm to jobs and the economy, but also refused to control government growth, make reductions in less critical services or even debate structural reforms to the state budget that would allow lawmakers to prioritize needs across state government," Waguespack wrote.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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