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Gas tax hike is still on the session agenda


May 5, 2017
By Jeremy Alford
Originally Posted on St. Charles Herald Guide

While House and Senate leaders contend a proposed increase to the state gasoline tax still has a long road ahead in the ongoing regular session, supporters aren’t letting up on their push to generate more money for Louisiana’s overwhelming transportation needs.

Still, it’s not the kind of political assessment supporters want to hear as the session nears its midway point, with adjournment scheduled for June 8.

Throwing the issue for a new curve this week was President Donald Trump, who told Bloomberg News that he would “certainly consider” supporting a hike in the federal gas tax if the revenue were directed to infrastructure spending. The federal retail gasoline tax is already 18.4 cents and on the state level the levy is 20 cents. Neither has been increased since the early 1990s.

Republican consultant Roy Fletcher of Baton Rouge said Trump’s statement, which stopped short of an endorsement or an announcement of any real plan, may introduce a new variable into the debate in the Louisiana Legislature.

While some conservatives might think Trump’s words of encouragement offer them some political cover to increase a tax that’s still seeking to gain footing at the Capitol, Fletcher said the possibility of gasoline being double-taxed is something to consider as well.

“If the feds possibly increase their rate — and we don’t know if that’s even the case — does someone want to do something here before that happens?” Fletcher asked.

Or, he added, does it become an issue that’s worth putting on hold, at least temporarily?

Prior to Trump’s statement, and even as he was giving it to Bloomberg News on Monday, the ongoing shotgun approach to increasing the state’s gas tax was looking tougher with each passing day.

Attention turned weeks ago to getting at least one of the related bills introduced out of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and onto the House floor, but little progress has been made.

Many committee members believe that an increase upwards of 17 cents, as proposed in one measure, will be a challenging sell.

As such, other options are starting to appear on the table, like the possibility of a different funding source, like a small portion of the state sales tax. But those options appear to be taking a back seat to the public discussion over the gasoline tax.

There have likewise been very informal discussions — talks that core supporters aren’t necessarily a part of — about fallback positions, such as making sure, at the very least, certain legislative elements of the various proposals out there stay intact, like scaling back administrative costs; prioritizing projects; and indexing current and future revenue.

That said, none of the teams behind the push for a greater gas tax in Louisiana are throwing in the towel.

There are still rays of hope to be found on the issue, with supporters promising more outreach and education — a daunting task with just half of the session remaining.

There are also some hardcore politics at play. Some Republicans, with an eye to 2019, don’t want to give Gov. John Bel Edwards the benefit of having orange barrels all over the state’s highways when he runs for re-election.Corporate tax overhaul pushed to next weekLegislation that started to get a closer look by Capitol players late last week, due to its intent to lower the corporate income tax rate, failed to get a full hearing on Monday before the House Ways and Means Committee because its author asked for more time to tweak the proposal.

Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, said his HB 648 was incomplete as drafted and that the amendments he needed to get the legislation into the right posture were still being put together. He added that his goal is to get back in front of the committee by next week at the earliest with the finalized measure.

With his legislation Havard wants to lower the top corporate rate of 8%, which he called the “highest in the nation,” and move the state toward a flat tax. Havard is calling his concept the “Business Flat Tax” and he told committee members that it would not apply to sub-chapter S-Corps or limited liability companies.

The idea came under fire last week by Stephen Waguespack, the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, who called it the “governor’s backup plan.” It was a clear reference to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ failed commercial activity tax on gross receipts.

Havard’s bill deals instead with gross margins.

“It will apply to profit and not receipts, making it completely different from the governor’s plan or the CAT tax,” said Havard. “Its going to be completely different than that.”

He added that the legislation, once properly amended, would eliminate “loopholes” and remove or reduce certain tax credits and exemptions. If certain financial triggers are met, under Havard’s plan, even the franchise tax would be rolled back completely.

Havard offered an overall mission for the legislation in one sentence for the committee: “That all of our profitable corporate taxpayers pay at least little something so that other companies and individuals don’t have to make up the difference.”

Political History: Louisiana on canvasDid you know that our state has an official painting? It’s oil on canvas from a father-and-son duo, Johnny O. Bell and Johnny F. Bell.

It took the Bells 10 years the develop the full idea and to complete the painting, before the enacting legislation was authored by late state Sen. Mike Cross and approved by the Legislature in 1995.

There was an early version of the painting, now in the possession of the Cross family, that included slaves in a cotton field, but it was rejected by senators and the Bells had to start over.

When a final version was approved, three duplicate paintings were made, with the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and the late Sen. Cross each getting one.

The canvas is dominated by images of a magnolia flower, a Catahoula Leopard cur, an alligator, a pelican and our state flag — and by state law, it is the official painting of Louisiana.