Hammett: 2000 a taxing year for Ways and Means

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. — Lawmakers must decide which paths they will take to cover a $300 million shortfall in the state’s budget — a figure that does not even cover raises for teachers, which would cost another $200 million, said state Rep. Bryant Hammett.

The regular session starts April 24. Since every other year’s regular session is devoted strictly to bills dealing with fiscal matters, this session will be a slow one for most committees – but a taxing one for Ways and Means, which Hammett now chairs.

Hammett, D-Ferriday, takes some comfort in the fact that a two-year, 3-cent sales tax on food, medicine and utilities that raises $327 million a year was renewed during the special session which ended last week.

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On the other hand, the state does not expect to see oil and gas severance taxes rise substantially for nine more months, is seeing less in sales taxes and has $150 million more in debt service than it did last year.

To deal with this year’s shortfall, Ways and Means spent much of its time during the special session holding hearings to discuss every possible measure to raise revenue.

Options discussed included raising sales and income taxes, decreasing homestead exemptions, individual tax exemptions or itemized deductions.

No votes were taken and the committee has not reached a consensus yet, Hammett said.

&uot;We were just looking at options,&uot; he said, but added that lawmakers seem ready to do something despite the political volatility of taxes. &uot;This is my ninth year, and I’m never heard them talk about these options so openly,&uot; Hammett said.

For the longer term, Hammett would like to see all the key players, from government officials to business leaders, to gather to see how Louisiana’s tax structure — &uot;antiquated,&uot;&160;in Hammett’s view – could be revamped to help prevent shortfalls in the future.

&uot;It’s not going to happen on the first shot, but it can happen,&uot; Hammett said.

He said he also hopes that teachers’ groups will sit down with lawmakers in the regular session to negotiate teacher raises that will satisfy educators without breaking the state. He also admitted that no one will be completely satisfied.

&uot;If everyone’s a little ticked off, it’s probably a good plan,&uot; Hammett said.

And with regards to Concordia Parish, Hammett said that during the regular session he will ask for $2.2 million for the Vidalia Landing riverfront development and $300,000 to build a speculative building to help attract industries to Ferriday.