15 December 2006

Floor action, Dec. 15: HB 52, HB 120, HB 59

HB 52 would create a fund in which to dump money to be used for economic development purposes. As its Senate handler Sen. Jody Amedee emphasized, no money that would violate the state’s spending cap would be put into it, it would probably come from the general fund, and it could create many high-paying jobs. Sen. Rob Marionneuax, however, wanted to know if additional money would be required from the state, which Amedee didn’t exactly know, as he thought it could be a billion dollars more the state would have to commit besides this $300 million. Marrioneuax also thought too much trust was being asked of the state with too much uncertainty in its return, and wondered how much the land was really worth.

Sen. Pres. Don Hines said he knew of another project where all sorts of feasibility studies and information had to be provided before the state invested in it. “We ought to be consistent,” he argued, implying the sugar mill he had backed a couple of weeks earlier should have gotten such easy treatment as this proposal seemed to be getting. Amedee confessed he didn’t know a whole lot about the project in terms of what would happen after the state bought the land and prepared it. Sen. Charles Jones pointed out that much information could not be made public because of competitive reasons to get the project for which the bill was designed.

Sen. Walter Boasso proposed an amendment to cap the fund at $300 million and basically would apply only to the project being recruited. It passed without objection.

Marionneaux said despite confidentiality, surely some financial statements could be worked up about the project. He said this giveaway to a foreign firm was inappropriate given that citizens in the state needed assistance and yet the Legislature didn’t seem willing to provide it. He argued that others had to be content with tax credits, so why should this firm merit any additional help? Sen. Chris Ullo said the benefits would be clear enough without exact figures.

Marionneaux then sent up an amendment that said if the plant did not come to the state, the money would be divided up to give pay raises to various groups. Sen. Art Lentini (Senate parliamentarian) pointed out that the multiple purpose of the bill would violate the Constitution, since it is not a general appropriation. Marionneaux said he knew of past bills of this format which had not been ruled unconstitutional, but he said he would not object to dividing the bill. Se. Robert Barham noted that if the amendment went through and it took awhile for the mill to make a decision, then the raises could go through in addition to the site expenditure if the firm decided to come. It ended up being defeated 12-23.

Amedee said he appreciated what Marionneaux had tried to do for state employees, but those measures could be dealt with in the future and even applied retroactively, but this measure had to be dealt with now in order to have any shot at landing the project. The bill passed 31-4.

HB 120 would provide tax credits to those who had to pay excess insurance assessments to bail out the state insurer. Sen. Ken Hollis wondered how expensive it would be to send out some checks, as some monies will be due to people who do not have income tax liability. Handler Sen. Willie Mount didn’t think the costs would be as high as Hollis had heard, even if it was more complicated because it would have to be calculated on a parish-by-parish basis.

Sen. Gerald Theunissen wanted to know why the “noncompetition factor assessment” was now included, pointing out that the bill now would refund past payments now required by law for those who were insured by the state insurer that they are required to pay, a 10 percent surcharge of the market rate. He said it would be better to tackle that issue in the regular session, not as part of this bill.

Sen. Julie Quinn proposed to get rid of that amendment, saying more time was needed to study that surcharge issue. But the author of the amendment added Sen. Nick Gautreuax said too few companies were writing policies necessitating the existence of the surcharge, so relief should be now and he promised if the amendment passed he would bring the issue back up in regular session. It passed with objection, and the bill passed 35-0.

HB 59 would extend a $125 tax credit to each qualifying child to any family, regardless of whether a head of household had any income tax liability, and also provides a 2 percent credit on medical expenses, casualty losses, charitable donations, and home mortgage expenses. Barham asked for a ruling about whether the addition of the 2 percent credit would push the bill over $500,000 in impact, requiring referral to the Finance Committee. Pres. Hines ruled against it, saying the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee had sufficient authority to deal with this matter.

Sen. Robert Adley, who had added the 2 percent credit, pleaded with the Senate to pass it even if they were not fans of other parts of the bill. He said it was like a pay raise for everybody. Sen. Diana Bajoie wondered whether this would disproportionately help people at higher income levels, but Adley said anybody who paid taxes would be helped by this part of the bill. He pointed out that since it was 2 percent, it would provide a direct offset to the payers in the lowest bracket, but only half at the 4 percent bracket, and just a third at the 6 percent level. Hollis pointed out that the language exactly duplicated other bills introduced this session once supported by the governor.

After Adley concluded, Hollis then asked for an adjournment sine die until the regular session (after being corrected in its format by Sen. Cleo Fields). His motion failed 12-22.

Bajoie said she just couldn’t support it, more out of protest with other things she said were being ignored, even with the credit, saying it wasn’t a fair choice and hoped the handler Sen. Lydia Jackson would withdraw it. After a clarifying amendment by Sen. Noble Ellington was adopted without objection, Jackson closed, pointing out they were debating income tax credits appealing to a wide spectrum of taxpayers. Even though some would be going to non-taxpayers, she argued that a boost in sales taxes was supporting the extra revenue forgone, paid by many who don’t pay income taxes. The bill passed 28-6.

The House concurred with HB 52 and HB 120. But it then adjourned sine die without making a decision on HB 59, thereby killing it, by a vote of 49-42.

I supported your syrup mill.
I wish you were governor.

Hines to Amedee during the HB 52 debate.

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 120 passed House committee, the House, Senate committee amended, the Senate amended, and the House concurred.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 59 passed House committee amended, the House, Senate committee amended, and the Senate amended.

I’m going to dispense with this because the above two bills are the only important ones that even made it to the floor of either house. And thus closes the 2006 legislative year.

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