Three weeks in, fate of tax reform efforts at La. Capitol unclear

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After three weeks of meetings, the fate of the 2017 legislative session is still a head-scratcher.

Last year, lawmakers repeatedly called for tax reform during this year's session, but so far, there's been little to show for it.

"If we're not going to do it, it just proves the point that they shouldn't trust us," said Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson.

Some lawmakers have little confidence anything will be accomplished during the 60-day session.

"To be honest, I'm concerned about anything getting out of Ways and Means," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, referring to the House's tax committee. "There doesn't seem to be an appetite for it."

The Republican-majority House Ways and Means committee, the first stop for new tax measures at the Capitol, put the brakes on the cornerstone of the governor's tax plan earlier this week, prompting the administration to pull the bill.

"Now its incumbent upon the legislature and particularly House leadership to unveil a plan," said Gov. John Bel Edwards during a press conference after the bill was yanked.

Since then, some talk has swirled around another tax idea, sponsored by Rep. Havard. The Republican representative's idea would have replaced two older corporate taxes with a new flat tax tax on business. One of the taxes that would be replaced - the corporate income tax - is riddled with exemptions and breaks that many complain allows companies to get out of paying the tax.

"It makes sure that everybody pays something, because we have some people that aren't paying," said Havard.

But reception for the bill has since grown lukewarm, with the business community pushing back against the idea. On Friday, April 28, the conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, originally believed to potentially be on board with the idea, announced that they are "definitely not supporting" the measure.

Now, with just about 40 days left, the race is on to try to find a solution to the state's tax and budget woes.

Next year, a fifth penny of the state's sales tax expires. It was was added to deal with last year's fiscal crisis. If legislators do not do something to replace that and other lost revenue, the state will face a new fiscal cliff of more than $1 billion, which means deep cuts.

Some at the Capitol have suggested that lawmakers may end up just kicking the can down the road, keeping the sales tax at its current level.

Many Democrats are opposed to that idea, according to Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe.

The House speaker is also optimistic they will not go home empty handed. "I don't see anything happening saying we're going to keep the penny and we'll have a special session," said Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.

On Monday, House leaders will introduce their state budget plan for next year. Republicans have called for a "stand-still" budget, keeping expenses at a similar level as the current year.

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.