Louisiana session enters final stretch, with taxes unsettled

Louisiana

Reps. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, and Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, review bill language on the House floor on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers Wednesday were still negotiating behind the scenes over finances, hoping to reach a deal on taxes and roadwork spending before the legislative session must end Thursday.

Many of the major session debates were complete, including an agreement reached days ago on most of the state’s massive spending bills. But legislative leaders headed into the final hours of their nine-week gathering still trying to settle the approach to a primary goal of session: overhauling the state’s tax laws.

“I think we’re pretty far along,” said Houma Rep. Tanner Magee, the House’s second-ranking Republican. “We’re just trying to make sure everything fits together and does not create unintended problems.”

Republican legislative leaders were trying to send voters this fall a package of complicated tax swap proposals that would get rid of personal income tax and corporate tax deductions for federal income taxes paid in exchange for lowering the state tax rates.

Those measures need two-thirds votes to pass. Republicans need some Democratic support to gain passage in the House, so they were haggling over several tax break proposals sought by Democrats to determine what combination of tax bills to include a final deal.

“Unless and until our stuff gets out, we don’t plan on voting on some other stuff,” said Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat and head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.

Proposals pushed by Democrats include the removal of state sales taxes from purchases of diapers and feminine hygiene projects; continuation of a 2018 expansion of a tax break program for the working poor called the Earned Income Tax Credit; and new tax credits for businesses hiring disadvantaged youth or former inmates.

James said he’s confident Democrats can reach a deal with House Republican leaders, but he said the Democratic-backed tax break proposals faced some resistance among rank-and-file GOP lawmakers.

“We’ve got some folks who would just rather help corporations than poor people,” James said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Page Cortez and other GOP Senate leaders were pushing to steer some of the state sales tax charged on purchases of cars and trucks to road and bridge projects, to chip away at a multibillion-dollar backlog of infrastructure work. But that would strip dollars from the state general fund that are used to pay for health care programs, education, public safety services and other government operations.

Among other outstanding issues, lawmakers also were still working on the state’s multiyear construction budget, legislation to chart the spending of federal coronavirus aid, the regulations for sports betting in the 55 parishes where voters approved the wagering and a bill to change the way Louisiana shops for voting systems.

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