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Governor John Bel Edwards speaks at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, March 24, 2021, where it was announced that all Louisiana residents ages 16 years and older would be eligible for the Coronavirus vaccine as of Monday, March 29.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday any tax overhaul approved by the Legislature needs to be revenue neutral rather than the cut in taxes some lawmakers are expected to push.

Also, Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the only way the state can raise substantial revenue from sports betting will be to allow wagers to be placed from smart phones and other mobile devices, one of the key questions for the legislative session that begins April 12.

Both leaders made the comments during a conference hosted by "Ellevate Louisiana," a group led by former state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

This year's gathering is a fiscal session, and tax changes will be a key topic.

Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee Chairman Bret Allain II, R-Franklin and House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette are working on 5-7 bills.

Whether they would add or subtract to state tax collections is unclear.

Some House members are also expected to push for outright tax reductions, which is always politically popular.

Edwards said he backs "real tax reform" as long as it keeps state revenue collections steady.

The governor noted that Louisiana's 0.45% state sales tax hike, which was enacted in the midst of the recent state financial crisis, is set  to expire in 2025 and will cost the state about $500 million per year.

He also said that, under the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bills, states that accept aid from the measure cannot intentionally reduce taxes.

Louisiana state government is set to get $3.2 billion from the legislation and still more is going to parishes.

Cortez said state officials are awaiting guidance from the U. S. Department of the Treasury on exactly what the no-tax cut provision means but it could be mid-April before those rules emerge.

"Until we get that clarity from the treasury we won't know what parts of tax reform can move forward and what will not," he said.

What is possible, Edwards said, is eliminating the  state income tax deduction for federal taxes paid, which could be offset by lower individual and corporate taxes.

"It is just good policy to do that," he said.

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While nearly two out of three voters approved sports betting in 2020, exactly how the wagering will work is yet to be decided.

Mississippi and some other states limit the betting to casinos.

New Jersey allows bettors to make wagers on their smartphones, computers and other devices using the internet.

Cortez, who will sponsor a bill on the issue, said the "consensus" is that allowing betting on mobile devices "is the only way it generates any kind of meaningful revenue."

Even then, he said, the new form of betting might raise $20 million per year when fully implemented and more likely around $10 million annually.

Despite pleas from early childhood advocates, neither Cortez nor the governor would commit to dedicating that revenue to early childhood education.

"I do think early childhood education is going to receive some funding," Cortez said. "Whether it will be out of that bucket or a different bucket is the question."

The governor's $36 billion proposed operating budget does not include new state aid for early learners.

Edwards said he expects the Revenue Estimating Conference in May to recognize new dollars for state services.

If that happens, he said, early childhood education and teacher pay would be his two priorities.

The governor has proposed teacher pay raises of $400 per year and $200 for support workers.

Both leaders downplayed chances lawmakers will approve a gas tax hike this year.

"That appears to me to be just a hill too far," Edwards said.

Said Cortez, "It doesn't seem likely."

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.