Louisiana’s public colleges could face a budget cut of $282 million if Gov. Bobby Jindal carries through on a threat to veto some tax changes lawmakers proposed to balance next year’s spending plans, House members were told Wednesday.
Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, circulated that information, along with a list of how cuts would hit individual campuses, as lawmakers negotiated on both spending and taxes with only a day remaining to hammer out a deal on the $24 billion budget.
The legislative session must end by 6 p.m. Thursday.
Both the House and Senate have agreed to raise cigarette taxes, close tax loopholes, shrink tax break programs and scale back business subsidies to drum up new money for next year’s budget and help close a $1.6 billion shortfall.
Jindal, expected to announce his presidential campaign in two weeks, is threatening to veto certain tax bills he considers a net tax increase, unless lawmakers find a way to offset them with what he considers a tax cut. He’s closely guarded his record on a no-tax pledge he signed with an organization led by national anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
The Senate has agreed to create a tax credit — only on paper — that would satisfy Jindal’s terms. But so far, House members have balked. They have called that idea a deception to the public, designed solely to benefit the Republican governor’s White House ambitions.
Without a tax credit or some other offset proposal, about $371 million used by lawmakers in next year’s budget to pay mainly for public health care services and higher education risks a veto from the governor, according to Broadwater. Seventy-six percent of any slashing, or $282 million, would hit colleges, under the estimates.
Broadwater said he’d be willing to vote for the tax credit maneuver, even though he described it as a “gimmick and a sham.” He said he’d tell his constituents: “To save higher ed, I’m going to vote for the gimmick.”
Budget haggling continued behind the scenes Wednesday, but legislative leaders said the focus so far was on agreeing on how much revenue to raise and how to spend it.
“We’re in the middle of a lot of negotiations. I think they’re going well,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette.
The Senate is seeking a much higher tobacco tax rate that also would sweep in more types of tobacco products than the House sought. Also, the House disagrees with the Senate’s plan to make deeper reductions to Louisiana’s generous film tax credit program. In addition, the House has shown resistance to a Senate plan to raise a fee on car buyers by $50.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he was confident the House and Senate could reach an agreement that could “save higher education, fund health care and have a balanced budget” on time.
But whether that will include the offsets sought by Jindal remained unclear.
Talk of whether to meet Jindal’s criteria for a veto-proof budget would follow after the House and Senate strike an agreement on the other pieces, according to Kleckley and Robideaux.
Ninety-four of the 105 House members signed onto a symbolic measure indicating a willingness to hold a veto override session if Jindal jettisons money tied to health care and colleges. The Senate has been resistant to the idea, and it’s unclear if the Legislature would have the two-thirds votes required to override the governor’s vetoes in such a session.