Lawmakers forward $644 million in tax bills

Lawmakers debate dozens of tax measures - 6 p.m.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana lawmakers voted Thursday on whether to advance $900 million in new tax measures in an effort to close the state's massive deficit.

Like a football coach before the big game, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley rallies his colleagues, moments before this session's most critical votes.

"Today is a day where people from all across the state are watching what we're doing here in this House chamber. Let's get to work," said Rep. Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

Early items passed quickly, like a cigarette tax hike from Rep. Harold Ritchie which will raise $68 million.

"You're either voting to adequately fund healthcare and higher ed, or you're voting to make the cuts that are going to need to be made," said Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette.

Combined with ten other tax measures, the House moved $664 million of the over $930 million on the table.

Meantime, while another bill would not pump any money into next year's budget, it did generate the most fireworks.

Rep. Lance Harris spoke against a cap on movie tax credits he says is too high.

"It's an industry on wheels and as soon as another state has a better deal than this, you're $1.3 billion investment for the last seven years is down the drain," said Rep. Harris, R-Alexandria.

The eleven tax bills will go to the Senate. That's where lawmakers may now have to the raise the extra money failed to be raised Thursday.

Supporters of raising nearly $1 billion in new revenue say it's absolutely necessary to avoid gutting public colleges and universities and healthcare. Those industries are on the chopping block and facing hundreds of millions in cuts if new revenue is not raised.

In a statement released Thursday, Gov. Jindal's office says, "We commend the House on their hard work today. This is one more step in the process towards passing a balanced budget that helps protect higher education and healthcare without raising taxes."

Several higher education leaders released statements regarding the revenue measures passed by the House of Representatives.

Joseph C. Rallo, Commissioner of Higher Education with the Louisiana Board of Regents:

"The Board of Regents is grateful for the House of Representatives' passage of several revenue measures which will provide a stable source of funding for higher education for FY 15-16. This solution will protect the WISE Fund, preclude the downgrading of bond ratings, and provide a significant and sustainable solution to enhance the viability of our institutions. We are optimistic that our friends in the Senate will continue the momentum started by the House to provide stable funding sources for state government and higher education."

Monty Sullivan, President of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System:

"Today, the leadership and members of the Louisiana House of Representatives made a series of difficult decisions in an effort to prioritize our continuing workforce efforts. Their work today will ensure opportunity for the people of our state and solidify a strong workforce for our industry partners."

Sandra Woodley, President of the University of Louisiana System:

"The University of Louisiana system applauds the difficult votes that were cast in the House of Representatives today. We have great respect for the difficulty of the task ahead and will continue to support our legislative leaders."

Ron Mason, President of Southern University System:

"We are grateful for the efforts of the House of Representatives on behalf of higher education and the state's future."

F. King Alexander, President and Chancellor of Louisiana State University:

"We are grateful to our state representatives for their courage and commitment to higher education. In moving forward so many revenue-generating bills today, they have provided us with real hope that solutions to the proposed budget cuts will be implemented and that LSU will be able to continue its mission of educating the next generation of leaders and providing solutions to the state's most pressing problems. We know that these are difficult decisions to make, and applaud all involved in pushing these bills forward to the next phase of the legislative process."

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