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House passes $677 million in tax, credit changes

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BATON ROUGE - A controversial cap on tax credits for the filmmaking industry. An increased cigarette sales tax. Scaling back solar and corporate tax credits.

Almost a dozen such bills were all passed by the Louisiana House Thursday in their efforts to raise revenue and start filling a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget.

Lawmakers put 13 bills on the docket and set a goal of passing around $937 million in new revenue. They only considered 11, approving all of them to possibly add $677 million in revenue.

"We've had a great day today," Kleckley said as the House adjourned for the day.

Legislative watchers predicted the debate over such tax increases would be long and contentious, especially after Governor Bobby Jindal threatened to veto the entire budget if it contained any such hikes. Instead bills were quickly brought in and passed, with Rep. Joel Robideaux's cap on how much the state gives the filmmaking industry in tax credits each year getting the most time on the floor.

Jindal commended the House on their work, but did not soften his stance toward tax increases.

"This is one more step in the process towards passing a balanced budget that helps protect higher education and healthcare without raising taxes," Jindal said in an emailed statement from his office.

Robideaux's bill initially proposed a $150 million cap annually to the film tax credit, but that failed its first vote. An amended version of the bill which capped the credits at $200 million passed by a 101-2 margin. Last year the state gave out more than $226 million in such credits.

Entertainment groups lobbied hard against any limits to those credits, which critics say will stop the flow of film and TV productions into what has been dubbed "Hollywood South." Proponents of tax reform called for further limits to the credits, which can be sold by filmmakers to companies such as oil and gas producers in Louisiana which already receive other corporate tax credits.

Kleckley said the proposals would have everyone "paying a share" to help stop deep cuts to health care and colleges next year. Higher education leaders also thanked lawmakers for taking steps to avoid deep cuts to colleges and universities.

"We know that these are difficult decisions to make, and applaud all involved in pushing these bills forward to the next phase of the legislative process," said LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander.

The bills which weren't considered Thursday include HB 355, which would enforce an existing sales tax on internet sales, and HB 768 which would end some sales tax exemptions for special interest groups and could add $231 million to the budget.

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