Time running out on single sales tax collection system in La.




With the U.S. Senate approving legislation earlier this week to allow states to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases, attention turns to the Louisiana Legislature, where a proposal to create a single sales tax collection system is running out of time.

The federal proposal still needs to navigate the U.S. House, where lawmakers are less favorable, but it still has more traction than Senate Bill 233 by state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who chairs the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee where the bill is being held. To be certain, it faces major hurdles because local governments still are not onboard. Louisiana is one of four states without a single collector system for state and local sales taxes, forcing businesses with sales in different parish to file separate reports for each.

“It’s still alive,” Riser said recently, adding his bill would address complaints by businesses about the different reporting requirements, audits and interpretations.

According to Louisiana Municipal Association Director Tom Ed McHugh, one big sticking point is that the bill calls for the centralized state system to hold onto the local sales tax revenues for up to 60 days. He said the technology exists for the immediate transfer to their coffers.

REC Could Affect Budget Deal

As the House inches closer to tax increases and permanent budget cuts, which are expected to be debated Thursday, another surprise element for the budget impasse could materialize sooner than later if the Revenue Estimating Conference recognizes new state money. The panel is charged with identifying the state’s revenue figures that are then plugged into the budget, which legislative leaders often time to move when the REC is expected to meet.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said preliminary information on tax collections is “encouraging,” which could mean more revenue to budget, but the REC will wait to act until all April reports come in.

For the REC to recognize $100 million or so in recurring revenue would break a five-year run of downward projections. That could help cover the contingent funds Gov. Bobby Jindal has proposed for the budget and a House coalition of Republicans and Democrats want to remove.

Medicaid Could Be Wedge Issue in Senate Race

Sen. Mary Landrieu briefly spoke to the state House last week, meaning she has now publicly addressed lawmakers just as many times as Gov. Jindal this session. She also sent lawmakers a letter asking them to do exactly what the governor is urging them not to do. “I have heard the arguments against expanding Medicaid coverage,” Landrieu wrote, “and frankly, I don’t think they hold water.”

The Medicaid issue is one of the early dividers between the New Orleans Democrat and Congressman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, so far the GOP frontrunner. Cassidy said the Medicaid decision has to take into account a balanced state budget and what he cited as a cost of $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion to Louisiana over the next decade.

“Based on what I know now, I oppose the expansion,” Cassidy said, adding he has introduced legislation offering alternatives to maintain and improve access to health care.

Smoking Ban Bills on the Move

A bill pending action before the House Education Committee would ban smoking in certain places at all public colleges by the fall semester of 2014. Senate Bill 36 started as a complete smoking ban on campuses. But when senators raised questions about tailgating exemptions, author Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, rewrote the measure to have each campus develop a smoke-free policy for next year.

“I got creative,” said Heitmeier, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Pending passage on the House floor and scheduled for debate Wednesday is another bill to prohibit smoking within 25 feet of the exterior of all state-owned buildings. Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, said House Bill 111 would protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke as they enter and exit buildings. It was amended to exclude the New Orleans Superdome and Sports Arena only. A first-offense violation would result in a $25 fine, followed by $50 and $100 fines for second and third offenses.

Quotes of the Week

“The answer is money. Now what is the question?” — Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee

“People from up north can’t talk Cajun, you know.” — State Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, on the lack of a governor from north Louisiana in modern times

“The Legislature ought to be independent. I subscribed to that philosophy for all but 16 years of my life.” — Former four-term governor Edwin Edwards, addressing the Senate on “Old-Timers Day.”

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