Hammett frustrated by session

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 9, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. — The Louisiana Legislature adjourned Wednesday evening without passing a budget for fiscal 2001, forcing them to hold a week-long special session starting June 19 to do so.

And Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, admitted that not being able to get a consensus on such matters looks irresponsible. &uot;But to me, the irresponsible thing to do would have been to rush to pass the budget without having a clear understanding of what we’re passing,&uot; Hammett said. &uot;No one was happy with the way the session ended, but the alternative would have been much, much uglier.&uot;

Still, he expressed frustration at not being able to get consensus on any revenue measures — except two that were passed in the last few minutes of this year’s session. Trying to describe what went wrong, Hammett sounds as if he is describing a tag-team wrestling match rather than government at work. &uot;It was the House vs. the Senate, Republicans vs. Democrats, the business lobby vs. those who represent working people,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;We actually didn’t come together at all until the last day.&uot;

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But when the dust settled, the Legislature had passed two constitutional amendments. In essence, those amendments, which voters would be asked to approve in November, would wipe out the sales tax on food and utilities while instituting new income tax brackets approved recently by the Legislature. Under the measure — dubbed &uot;the Stelly bill&uot;&160;for its sponsor, Rep. Vic Stelly of Lake Charles — federal itemized deductions would not be allowed on state returns.

Legislative experts say the measure would raise net revenue of about $425 million a year. In all, about $300 million would go toward education — namely, raising teachers’ salaries. The Stelly bill was passed with 70 House votes, the exact number needed for it to pass.

&uot;We fooled around … and almost ran out of time,&uot;&160;Hammett said. &uot;But it was one of the most positive things that came out of this session. I see it as one of the first steps toward true tax reform.&uot;