19 June 2006

Floor action, Jun. 19: HB 1281, SB 454

During debate in the House on the conference report for HB 1281, Rep. Mike Powell sniffed out the fact that the bill, which was supposed to address a Supreme Court decisions about the applicability of tax increment financing, added such an arrangement to aid the Tournament Players Championship golf course in Jefferson Parish. Powell noted this was the first existing course getting this designation, that it could have a ripple effect for others, and it would cause of a loss of funding at the state and local level. Handler Rep. John Alario said the arrangement would spur economic development (and that it could be used to offset the state contract with the course forcing it to pay the course for rounds of golf unplayed) but Powell said since the course already was there the TIF did not serve that purpose. He pointed out that this precedent could be applied to many existing facilities, in essence transferring state wealth to private interests for “economic development” purposes.

However, the house majority did not share Powell’s concern, as the conference committee report was adopted 58-32.

SB 454 has been rewritten by amendment several times, so the House finally got a crack at its latest incarnation via conference report. Handler Rep. Jim Fannin explained the bill would create a panel of three representatives who would determine when a gallon of ethanol minus federal subsidies was equal to or less than a gallon of gas, only then would the requirements of Act 313 kick in. (He said incorrectly, in response to a question, that one representative was selected by the Commissioner of Higher Education; it's the Revenue Secretary.)

Rep. Mike Walsworth asked more information about the pricing mechanism’s determination. He also noted that the determination of equality or less for 60 days occurred only once, then the mechanism would be scuttled (meaning if the prices subsequently diverged with ethanol going higher, the mandate of Act 313 still would stay in place).

Rep. Steve Scalise wanted to know why the “hard trigger” written into statute by the House was removed, replaced by a more subjective process. Fannin said it was part of the process and now was not the time to reopen the bill, just to decide on the report. “This is the best instrument we have” he insisted. Responding to questioning, he said it was a fairer deal because this measure asked for parity and over a 60-day period, whereas the discarded amendment had a ten cent buffer for 30 days.

Rep. Jim Tucker lamented that this was a Hobson’s Choice, either taking no action or approving a bad compromise. He said a bad law was better than none and would vote for it. “We need to revisit this next year, meanwhile, the Louisiana consumer is getting screwed.” Rep. Francis Thompson argued that including the federal subsidy was appropriate because oil producers got subsidies, he said.

It seemed the House took Tucker’s advice to heart, as the report was adopted 97-1.

How long is this open audition process going to last?
Rep. Robby Carter, noting a series of acting speakers were running the House.

This is the last train leaving the station today
Fannin, noting if SB 454 didn’t get dealt with today, the matter would not be dealt with at all as the session ends.

The greatest legislators and legislature ever are right here today.
Special guest Jay Chevalier, before singing the new state recovery song on the House floor.

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