Hammett: Tax bill needs 70 signatures

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2000

For a tax bill to be passed to cover the state’s $374 million budget shortfall, much less raises for teachers, would require a &uot;yes&uot;&160;vote of at least 70 state representatives.

As it now stands, the 70 votes aren’t there, Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, and Louisiana Federation of Teacher spokesman Les Landon said Tuesday. Also, any such bills would need to be passed by the Senate — and, with Sunday as the deadline to pass bills this session, time is running out.

Ferriday kindergarten teacher Janet Vaught is certainly not pleased that teacher raises are unlikely – but she is not surprised, either. &uot;Every year, we keep hearing that they’re going to raise our salaries to the southeastern average,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;Why should believe them this time?&uot;

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As of Tuesday, Landon refused to give up hope completely for a raise this year but admitted to some discouragement, both with regard to the current session and hopes of a special session for raises.

&uot;We’re going to keep fighting until the end. … But every day that passes makes it harder to pay a (pay raise) bill,&uot;&160;Landon said. &uot;There’s lots of talk that a special session could be called, but since they can’t get the 70 votes they need now, the outlook … is very discouraging.

&uot;The business lobby has been effective in killing every tax that affects business,&uot;&160;he added.

The public relations office of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which has lobbied against many of the tax bills this session, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

&uot;Business groups are fighting ferociously against every revenue measure we bring up,&uot;&160;said Hammett, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which deals with revenue measures.

&uot;We’re scraping to even fill the (budget) hole, much less give teachers a raise,&uot; Hammett said. &uot;We’re having a devil of a time.&uot;

Hammett believes the best chance for teacher raises is House Bill 295, which would revamp income tax rates to bring in net revenue of about $390 million per year, including $220 million for pay raises for teachers and college and university instructors.

&uot;That bill is still on the House floor, but we may be able to get it out in time,&uot; Hammett said Tuesday.

&uot;Then it would have to be voted on by the people, since it would be a constitutional amendment. But if voters did pass it, … it would raise teachers’ salaries to the (southeastern average).&uot;

Although the bill would not include money for raises for other school employees, Hammett pointed out that the bill could be amended to do so.

Other major tax bills proposed during this session that would include money for teacher raises include:

H.B. 299, which would cut in half the deductions allowed on state income taxes for extra deductions taken on federal tax forms. It would raise about $69.8 million starting with fiscal 2002. It was pending before the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Tuesday.

H.B. 117, which would raise the tax on cigarettes from 20 cents to 24 cents a pack. That would generate $13.3 million a year beginning in fiscal 2001. It was pending before the Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs.

H.B. 202, which would raise state sales taxes by 1/2 cent and generate $215 million a year starting in fiscal 2001. It is waiting to be called back to the House floor by lawmakers.

&uot;There are plenty enough bills out there to fill the budget shortfall and give teachers and school employees their raises,&uot;&160;Landon said. &uot;Whether legislators have the wisdom and forethought to pass them is what we’ll find out.&uot;