Tax Committee Chairman: Lawmakers Handled Budget Responsibly



BATON ROUGE (AP) — The chairman of the Louisiana House's tax committee said Monday that lawmakers shouldn't have trouble defending tax votes they took in the just-ended legislative session, because the decisions helped protect public health care and higher education.

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         Lawmakers raised taxes and scaled back tax breaks to raise more than $700 million for the upcoming $24.5 billion budget that begins July 1. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said the votes were tough for lawmakers to make with elections on the horizon this fall.

         But Robideaux, who is term-limited and running for Lafayette city-parish president, defended the votes and the budget tied to them: "I think every legislator can go back to their districts and say we solved the problem."

         "I think we were responsible," he told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

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         Without additional revenue for the budget, the steepest cuts would have fallen on public colleges and health services. At one point, higher education faced the threat of losing 80 percent of its state financing.

         Business groups have suggested lawsuits may be filed against some of the legislation changing the tax rules, raising questions about whether they were properly passed and whether they improperly change already-granted tax credits.

         Robideaux said lawmakers "trimmed" tax breaks that were too generous when struggling with a budget shortfall. He noted many reductions to the tax credit and subsidy programs were only enacted for three years.

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         "We gave these incentives to the business community… When you give them 10 M&Ms and then you come back and say, 'Look, we're only giving you eight,' and they holler and scream that they're only getting eight M&Ms, it's kind of hard to sympathize with them," he said.

         Smokers face a tax hike, the film industry faces a cap on its tax credits, and businesses of all kinds face cuts of 20 percent, 25 percent and 28 percent to a variety of tax breaks and subsidies they receive.

         "I can't wait for the time that we can undo the reduction of these tax exemptions, when the economy's picking back up, because I think they weren't bad ideas," Robideaux said. But he added: "With what we were facing, it was a pretty easy decision to peel them back."

         The film industry is urging Gov. Bobby Jindal to veto a bill that would put a three-year, $180 million annual cap on state spending on tax breaks for movie and TV productions. The move is estimated to save $70 million in the upcoming budget year.

         Jindal's office said it was considering the industry's concerns. But the Republican governor said last week he didn't expect to veto revenue-generating bills tied to the budget.

         Robideaux said killing the film tax credit bill "would blow a hole in the budget."

         "I don't anticipate there will be a veto of that bill or any of the revenue measures that were used to balance the budget," he said.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte




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