By Matt Starlight
Last Thursday, the Legislative Session took a major step in keeping the doors of the state’s public universities open by approving 11 tax measures that will raise $664 million for the state next year, although the House was looking for $937 million increase total just to keep the state running.
A few of the measures are a 32-cent tax increase on cigarettes, speeding up the eventual killing off of a solar tax credit program, and a 20 percent decrease in tax credits overall. In fact, the increase on cigarettes was the only traditional tax increase. The rest were cuts towards tax breaks given to industries and individuals.
The expected $664 million will be a good start and should take our public universities off the chopping block. However, something will still need to be cut. According to House Appropriations Committee chairman Jim Fannin, it seems the cuts will come from state museums, state parks, and the health care system. He said that he would use the funding to first save higher education, then delegate funds elsewhere.
His position on the matter was met with some justified criticism. There are many senators who believe that funding public universities should not come at the price of underfunded hospitals.
Louisiana’s fresh new role as king of the film industry also could suffer as a result. The state’s been able to fend off competition from neighboring states by offering tax breaks that have been too good to pass up. Now that cuts in those breaks are on the way, other states could swoop in and nab some piece of the pie. There’s no telling yet exactly how negatively this will impact Louisiana’s film industry, but forcing filmmakers to pay more to work here can’t be good for business.
Everything considered, and depending on which state run programs have your allegiance, this seems to be good news, but the budget is far from out of the woods. Apart from the glaring $273 million that wasn’t regained, Governor Jindal still has vetoing powers, and may choose to exercise them to appease businesses who may not be in favor of such drastic reductions in their tax breaks. A two thirds vote from the Legislature would be required to override Jindal’s potential veto, and about $393 million worth of cuts wouldn’t qualify if all the votes stay the same. It would take 70 votes to override his veto, which would require some Republicans to contradict him as well. Once Jindal has made a decision, the fate of Louisiana’s public higher education and healthcare systems will be much closer to absolute.
In other news from the session…
HB 456: Would require commercial mobile service providers to give call location information to law enforcement during “emergencies,” was unanimously approved and sent to the Senate. This means where you made your phone calls can be seized by law enforcement in basically any situation they deem an emergency.
HB 475: Would legalize gambling on fantasy sports, was approved 71 yeas to 20 nays by the House and sent to the Senate. Landing the first spot in your fantasy draft might start paying serious, legal dividends.
HB 489: Would criminalize spreading explicit images of people without their permission, was met with unanimous approval by the House and sent to the Senate.
Keep up with DIG Magazine as we continue to bring you updates on the bills that matter. If you have any particular bills you’d like us to keep an eye on, tell us on Facebook and twitter using #TellDig.