Senate starts spending uncollected amnesty dollars _lowres

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- State Sens. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, and Neil Riser, R-Columbia, debate legislation involving the state's tax amnesty program Wednesday.

The Louisiana Senate took up legislation extending a tax amnesty program Wednesday and immediately started spending the uncollected proceeds.

At one point, state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, jokingly suggested using dollars derived from delinquent and contested taxes for unicorns and fairy dust if legislators were going to spend money not already in hand. The Senate returned the legislation to the Louisiana House on a 36-0 vote.

House Bill 663 continues an amnesty program aimed at giving taxpayers an incentive for submitting unpaid taxes. All of the penalties and 50 percent of the interest on the taxes would be waived this year. HB663 is expected to generate at least $100 million for state government.

The first amendment to the bill Wednesday came from state Sen. Francis Thompson.

Thompson, D-Delhi, wanted to take $4 million collected in excess of the $100 million needed for the state operating budget and direct it to the Louisiana Regional Leadership Council. The council would spend the money on regional economic development and workforce development.

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, objected, telling the chamber that only $21 million is set aside for state highway work next year.

“If you want to play this silly game — and I believe that’s what it is — of spending money we don’t have ... put it where it’s going to do some good,” he said.

Adley advised legislators to buy pickups. He said anyone driving a Volkswagon is going to be swallowed by the holes in the state’s roadways.

The Senate tacked on Thompson’s amendment to HB663.

State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, flirted with trying to direct some of the amnesty proceeds to a crime lab in his region. He quickly withdrew the amendment.

State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, was more successful, adding language to send $25 million in amnesty program proceeds above the $100 million for the budget and the $4 million for Thompson’s program to higher education.