Louisiana Lawmakers Begin Tax Debate

Paul Murphy talks about house lawmakers are trying to plug a hole in the state spending plan.

NEW ORLEANS -- Governor John Bel Edwards' budget balancing act calls for hundred of millions of dollars in new state tax revenue. Wednesday, the House Ways and Means committee began hearing tax proposals on a variety of items such as cigarettes and alcohol.

State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is sponsoring a bill to tax internet sales. Something he says would raise tens of millions of dollars a year for the state.

"This is referred to in a lot of different ways as Marketplace Fairness, E-Fairness," Leger said. "This is basically attempting to collect a tax that's already due."

Tom Lowenberg, co-owner of Octavia Books in Uptown testified in favor of the bill.

 "Our competition online is not paying, not collecting any sales tax," Lowenberg said. "It's a question of collecting a tax that people are really supposed to declare it now on their income tax."

State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Metairie, is pushing a bill to reinstate a 3-percent tax on car rentals.

"It just makes sense that if every other state around us has that tax, that we also have it," Stokes said. "The farther and wider we spread the liability for the state's deficit, the lower the individual impacts will be."

Down the hall, there was emotional testimony about dire consequences if lawmakers say no to new revenue.

Higher education leaders told the House Appropriations Committee that under a worst case scenario, proposed budget cuts would likely cause many campuses to suspend operations.

Political strategist James Carville spoke against further cuts to his alma matter, LSU.

"If we end classes on May 1, we're going to have accreditation problems," Carville said. "We're going to have a lot of things that are going to happen to us that are going to be really, really bad. People have to understand that."

Committee members were not prepared to vote on the various tax proposals. Lawmakers say that want to first see what the cuts look like before approving new revenue.

"It sure would be helpful if we have as much information about that as possible because clearly nobody wants to vote on taxes that are unnecessary," Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans said.

A bill, calling for a new one penny state sales tax is will likely be debated in committee on Thursday.

Rep. Abramson expects the first tax votes later this week or early next week.



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