Oops: Lawmakers Strip Sales Tax Breaks From Saints, Pelicans

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers accidentally stripped sales tax exemptions from the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans in the closing hours of the recent special legislative session.

         The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports that move violates the state's subsidy contracts with Louisiana's two major league sports teams. That technically means the pro football and basketball teams could quit their leases and leave New Orleans.

         Louisiana Revenue Secretary Kimberly L. Robinson says officials are working out the mess and aren't worried that the teams could leave.

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         "There's no indication on their part that they're looking to exercise any of their rights under the lease," she said.

         Greg Bensel, on behalf of the Saints and Pelicans, refused comment, as did Kyle France, chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the state agency that oversees the Superdome and other publicly owned facilities.

         The end result, at least for now, is a law requiring the collection of a 5 percent sales tax on tickets, concessions and merchandise through June 30. Then for the next two years, the rate drops to 3 percent and goes back to zero starting July 1, 2018. The Pelicans have three more home games and the state will be collecting sales taxes in the Smoothie King Center, Robinson said.

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         It's another after-effect of the confusion surrounding the end of the session, as legislators rushed to rewrite tax laws to remove exemptions and raise money to close a yawning deficit. Lawmakers admit not all the changes were properly vetted.

         "You saw the melee at the end of session," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. "It didn't get through the process."

         Morrell had proposed a bill to allow taxes to be collected at nonsporting events, such as concerts, but knew of the contract provisions and sought to protect them. However, the Senate voted for a House bill instead. Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, who sponsored that bill, said he wasn't aiming for the Saints and Pelicans, although he has opposed state subsidies to the team in the past

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         "Gosh no, it wasn't intentional, at least on my part," Morris said.

         Morrell said lawmakers may be able to fix the mistake in a special session Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to call after the regular session ends on June 6.

         If sales taxes are imposed, the state's 2009 contract requires the state to reimburse the teams owned by the Benson family for any taxes collected in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center.

         But Morrell doesn't think checks will be written.

         "I've spoken to both LSED (Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District) and to the Saints and Pelicans organization, and I think they don't want the check," Morrell said. "The optics are awful."

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