BATON ROUGE -- Financial experts say state lawmakers have few quick sources of cash to solve budget problems left unresolved after their regular session ends this evening.
But one of the the possibilities during the 18-day special session that starts immediately afterward is the state's income tax rates.
Louisiana's highest income tax bracket -- 6 percent -- is comparable to states like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina, all of which have a top bracket of 5 percent to 7 percent.
But Louisiana's highest bracket for married filing jointly doesn't kick in until $100,001 of taxable income, a much higher threshold than most of those other states. An individual taxpayer hits the top bracket at $50,001 of taxable income, also considerably higher than peer states in the South.
Alabama's highest bracket, 5 percent, takes effect at just $6,001 of taxable income.
South Carolina's 7 percent bracket kicks in at $14,601.
And Louisiana has the highest per-capita personal income among peer states at roughly $42,000 a year.
A report from the Deloitte accounting firm found Louisiana saw drastic revenue declines from 2007-10 stemming from individual and corporate income.
The group tasked with reporting to the governor with recommendations for the special session and next year's expected budget reform session are still discussing income tax changes.
“To raise money now, you only have several sources: excess itemized deductions, change the [income tax] brackets ... and a couple of exemptions,” said James Richardson, an LSU economist and chairman of the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy.
Edwards' agenda for the special session includes changes to the income tax brackets, federal itemized deduction and a handful of credits and exemptions, among other items.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said lawmakers must choose between permanent tax increases on constituents or a possible cut to the popular TOPS free college tuition program, which only affects students in the short-term.
“If you're a student at LSU right now,” Henry said, “do you want us to raise your taxes and the taxes of your parents or guardians permanently so TOPS can be fully funded? Or would you rather pay a little more than you are knowing that the payment will end four years from now?”