Over the objection of business interests, a state Senate committee took a modest first step Monday to address a blue-ribbon task force’s call to clean up Louisiana’s loophole-ridden tax code.
All told, the various bills approved by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee would raise about $10 million for the state — relatively peanuts given that lawmakers are facing a “fiscal cliff” next year when $1.3 billion in temporary taxes will fall off.
“The state of Louisiana is looking to the Senate to figure out how to dig ourselves out of this hole,” state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, the committee’s chairman, told his colleagues as he asked them to approve one of his bills repealing a minor tax credit. Morrell said the big money from repealing tax exemptions would come from measures that must originate in the state House.
State Sen. JP Morrell was hopping mad.
There, anti-tax conservatives tend to view eliminating tax breaks as akin to raising taxes, despite a call from the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget & Tax Policy in its January report for lawmakers to fix a “broken” tax system.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has embraced the task force’s recommendations. House Republican leaders, after calling last year for the Legislature to reform the tax system this year, have yet to endorse a plan that would do so.
The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based group frequently cited by Republicans, has ranked Louisiana’s state sales tax code as the worst in the country because of a patchwork system that taxes purchases at different rates of sales tax. At an average 10 percent when local levies are included, Louisiana also has the highest sales tax rate in the nation, which prompts a host of other complaints.
Here’s something to ponder the next time you dine out or shop for a new shirt: Louisiana has…
Most tax measures must start in the House Ways and Means Committee, which heard testimony on a host of bills last week but did not vote on them because, according to its chairman, state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, the state Legislative Fiscal Office hasn’t had time yet to determine how much they would raise or cost the state. The committee has 144 bills before it and counting.
Morrell believes his committee needs to begin moving forward even if the bill’s fiscal note is not yet available.
“If we were to wait, we wouldn’t be sending bills to the floor until halfway through the session,” Morrell said in an interview. “Fiscal notes will be available by the time of (Senate) floor debate.”
The question of what to do with tax exemptions will be central during the 60-day regular session — which began its second week Monday — with lawmakers needing to figure out how to solve next year's fiscal cliff caused by the expiration of a temporary one-cent increase in the state sales tax as well as a host of temporary tax breaks.
No one — not even anti-spending conservatives — has put forth a credible plan to end the fiscal cliff through spending cuts alone in the $9.5 billion part of the budget financed by state taxes, royalties and fees.
Edwards has proposed making up $800 to $900 million of the fiscal cliff by having the state impose a corporate tax on sales, a plan that business lobbyists oppose and that has found little favor among legislators.
State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, filed the measure Monday, House Bill 628. As previously reported, it would impose a 0.35 percent tax on gross receipts for companies that have sales above $1.5 million in a year.
One week into this year’s regular legislative session, Gov. John Bel Edwards has yet to gain…
Lawmakers could make up some of the fiscal cliff revenue by repealing or paring tax exemptions, as they did on a temporary basis in 2015 and again in 2016.
The hundreds of tax exemptions meant that the state exempted $6.83 billion in taxes in 2016 while collecting only a bit more — $7.24 billion — in taxes. The $6.83 billion was less than what the state didn’t collect in 2015 — $7.89 billion — because of the tax breaks trimmed by lawmakers that year.
Edwards, as part of his tax package, is asking legislators to give voters the chance to repeal two expensive tax breaks — which allow individuals and corporations to deduct their federal tax payments on their state tax returns — in return for lower individual and corporate tax rates. The tax swap is basically revenue neutral.
Besides ending tax breaks, Edwards is also asking lawmakers to extend the sales tax to transactions that are taxed in Texas but not Louisiana, including landscaping, Netflix and hair grooming.
State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, is sponsoring House Bill 562, which would eliminate tax exemptions on sales taxes and extend the sales tax to the untaxed transactions. In a potentially ominous move for the governor, she has filed an amendment to not extend the sales tax to those transactions. In an interview Monday, Jackson said she filed the amendment only to determine its cost, noting that the Governor’s Office is not supporting it.
Legislators already have gotten signals of the difficulty they will face in ending tax breaks.
Three Republican state senators — Dale Erdey, of Livingston; Neil Riser, of Columbia; and Eddie Lambert, of Prairieville — opposed a bill Monday that would limit the number of hunting-related items free from sales tax, even after the owner of an All-Terrain Vehicle dealership in Scott told the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee that the provision only led buyers to shift the purchase of the vehicles to the sales tax holiday weekend.
“We have not seen any increase in sales from the tax-free weekend,” said Bill Young, owner of First Turn in Scott.
The committee passed Senate Bill 22 when the four Democratic senators attending the hearing voted for it.
Another sign of the struggle to stamp out tax breaks is that Morrell — who has launched a legislative crusade against them — is also sponsoring a costly one as well. Senate bills 24 and 27 would, with the approval of legislators and then voters, exempt diapers and feminine hygiene products from local and state sales tax. The bill would cost the state $9.2 million per year.
“I’m against exemptions that don’t provide an economic benefit or a public benefit to the state,” Morrell said in a recent interview. “I would love for someone to argue why diapers and feminine hygiene products are not essential.”
On Monday, Morrell received congratulations, after his committee adjourned, for the measures limiting tax expenditures that won approval. But he noted that business lobbyists who didn’t testify against the measures lie in wait.
“Lobbyists will just work the members directly,” he said. “That’s the next step.”