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La. House committee blocks another governor-backed tax bill

House Ways and Means Committee (Source: WAFB) House Ways and Means Committee (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Wednesday was yet another bad day for the Edwards administration, as a House committee effectively killed a bill that would generate more than $100 million for the state next year. 

The majority Republican House Ways and Means Committee was deadlocked on HB 11. With a vote of 9-9, the Democratic chairman was forced to cast the deciding vote. Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, ultimately voted to stonewall the bill, keeping it from advancing to the House floor. 

Sponsored by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, the bill was part of the governor’s agenda for the special session. It would have reduced how much of the federal excess itemized deduction individuals can claim on their personal income tax. As it stands, Louisiana is just one of a handful of states that allow individuals to individuals to claim 100 percent of those deductions. The bill would have reduced it to 57.5 percent. 

"I've been told, 'I can't believe you're bringing this bill. You're supposed to be a Republican and a conservative,'" Shadoin told the committee. "Well, I am, but maybe not by your definition. It took some persuading of me, and the studying of the figures and the statistics myself to know and to move the bar past my conservative reluctance to bring this bill, saying this is something that has to be done now." 

Overall, it would bring in an estimated $117 million during the fiscal year starting July 1 – or roughly one fifth of the $600 million the governor hopes to raise next year in order to fully fund TOPS, the state’s partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured, and other programs. 

University leaders from across the state testified in support of the measure, outlining what more cuts could mean for their universities. Southern University Chancellor Dr. Ray Belton told lawmakers that repeated cuts have made it difficult for him to keep and hire faculty at his school. 

Meanwhile, recipients of the state’s health waivers asked that lawmakers raise more revenue so disabled children and the elderly on waiting lists could finally receive waivers and needed services. 

Shadoin and the Edwards administration have both said that the bill would only impact those making more than $103,000 per year, or about a quarter of taxpayers. The committee even approved a compromise amendment, tying the bill to the success of a series of tax reform measures sponsored by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner. In doing so, Democrats would get the revenue they want, while Republicans would get the tax reform they are looking for. 

"I’m doing what I believe is right, even if it’s not the easiest thing," Stokes said. 

Still that was not enough to get certain Republicans on board with the tax plan.

"It does raise a big concern to go back and hit our constituents again when we just raised over, or close to, $2 billion a few months ago," said Rep. Phillip DiVillier, R-Eunice. 

After the vote, the governor released the following statement: 

"Given the $600 million deficit, when you vote against additional revenue, you are voting to cut TOPS, higher education, K-12 education, and life-saving health care services including our safety-net hospitals. That’s the choice some legislators are making, and that’s the choice they will have to defend to their constituents. Putting politics over people got us into this mess. While some are insistent that we continue down that path, I am not. As I have said from day one, I am fully committed to funding TOPS, higher education, K-12 education, and essential health care services, and I presented a plan to do just that. But simple math does not allow us to do so without additional revenue."

If they choose, there is an identical bill still pending in the House Ways and Means Committee that the Edwards administration could, in theory, run. However, opportunities to do so are limited. 

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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