Melinda Deslatte / The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana House reversed course Monday and agreed to give a 10-year, $37 million tax break to the New Orleans Hornets, part of the state's deal to keep the NBA team.
The proposal by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, extends an existing tax break that saves the team $3.7 million a year through Louisiana's Quality Jobs Program. Henry's bill would continue the rebate through the 2024 NBA season. Otherwise, the tax exemption expires in 2013.
Henry's bill was sent to the Senate for debate with a 62-37 vote, a week after it failed in the House, getting only 49 votes. It needed 53 to pass.
Henry said the extension was part of the deal for keeping the team in New Orleans and part of the deal with new Hornets owner Tom Benson, who also owns the New Orleans Saints.
"We need to keep this team here," Henry said.
Critics said the state doesn't have enough money to continue offering multimillion dollar tax credits to wealthy team owners when it faces a $211 million budget gap this year and continues to cut education and health care programs.
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said public clinics have closed and schools haven't received funding increases.
"But we're going to give the wealthiest man in the state $36 million?" he asked.
Jones tried to amend the proposal to require that the Saints enter a new five-year contract with quarterback Drew Brees, who's been slapped with a franchise tag but is seeking a long-term extension with the NFL team.
"That would be a quality job. It has been a quality job," Jones said.
The amendment failed in a 29-62 vote.
Before backing the bill, the House added language requiring the state's economic development secretary to report to the Legislature's joint budget committee about the number of jobs created because of the tax break.