Senators sail through tax bills
BATON ROUGE- Senators sailed through 11 House-approved tax changes Monday that would raise $615 million dollars and save state colleges from devastating cuts. The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee offered no amendments or objections to the bills, preferring to send them to the Senate Finance Committee next week.
The bills raise taxes on cigarettes and scale back tax breaks for businesses. The members in the Finance Committee are expected to amend the bills to find another $200 million for health care, an area in danger of losing as much as $600 million with the loss of federally-matched funds.
One of the potential changes is a further increase to the cigarette tax. The current proposal calls for $0.32 increase for a total of $0.68 a pack. Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) worries that attaching a larger cigarette tax increase to the budget could mean losing the number of lawmakers needed to pass it with a two-thirds majority.
Another challenge for legislators is finding an equal amount of offsets to any tax increase because Governor Jindal has threatened to veto the budget if it's not "revenue neutral." The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee approved one offset Monday, the Student Adjustment for a Valuable Education (SAVE) Credit Program. The proposed law offers tax breaks for parents of college students.
The House will approve the amended version of the state budget Thursday. Afterwards it will head to the Senate Finance Committee next week where Alario expects members to consider it in unison with the 11 tax bills.