Friday, May 24, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers put $1.48B in tax credit proposals in holding pattern, with more to come

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

A Louisiana House committee took no action Tuesday on over a dozen tax credit proposals that would withhold a total of $1.48 billion in state revenue. The approach signals that lawmakers want to chart a cautious path through this year’s fiscal session.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which originates tax proposals in the legislature, drew a large crowd of special interest groups and lobbyists vying for new or larger slices of the tax credit pie. Lawmakers on the panel heard and debated 16 tax credit bills Tuesday but did not vote on any. More tax incentive bills await the committee.

“We’re going to hear each one of the tax credits as they come through and we’re going to set them aside until we have a total on all of the credits and to make sure that we have fiscal notes on everything,” Chairman Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, said.

Though not entirely out of the norm, the committee’s approach differed from the process of voting on each bill as it is presented. 

In a phone interview, the Louisiana Budget Project’s Jan Moller said the committee’s approach is generally a smart one, but he thinks the legislature should prioritize certain issues and pass credits for those most in need. 

“Tax policy is about priorities. Who do you prioritize?” Muller said. “We need to prioritize working families with low incomes.”

Moller testified Tuesday morning in support of a bill to expand the state’s earned income tax credit for families. House Bill 162, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, would increase the credit Louisiana offers from 5% to 10% of the taxpayer’s federal earned income tax credit. 

While Willard’s bill has a lot of support from advocacy groups, it is one of the costliest at $364 million over five years.

Some tax credit proposals have rough calculations on how much they’d cost the state because of the lack of available data. House Bill 126, sponsored by Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, would allow individuals to claim an income tax credit on so-called “catastrophe savings accounts” in which people can set aside money to pay for qualified disaster expenses such as insurance deductibles.

The bill’s fiscal note states it could cost roughly $480 million over three years if a million homeowners participated in the program, making it the most expensive among all the tax credit bills. However, the Legislative Fiscal Office included a line in the note that pointed out it had “no information or method that can reliably estimate the exposure to state general fund revenues.”

The fiscal note’s estimate of one million people participating is “not realistic,” Firment told the committee. Alabama has had a similar program for 13 years and has seen only about 1,200 homeowners participating, he said. Firment estimated the program would cost Louisiana roughly $100,000 per year. 

The costliest proposal for a single year is House Bill 243, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Tarver, R-Lake Charles. His bill would provide a one-time refundable income tax credit in the form of direct payments to people who earn less than $150,000. 

“It’s a request to return to them a portion of what this government has taken from them in excess of what it planned to provide in services,” Tarver said. “The rebate would go to families facing difficult financial days, rising costs of gas, groceries and other household provisions.”

Tarver’s bill would give taxpayers refunds between $125 and $500 and reduce state coffers by approximately $275.4 million.

It’s unknown when the committee might recall the bills for a vote or if the cautious approach will continue throughout the session. Moller said there are a lot of new lawmakers who weren’t around the last time the legislature found itself in financial trouble and had to decide between cutting health care or cutting higher education. 

“History has shown that a lot of reckless policy gets made in election years when there’s lots of money available,” he said. “In 2007, tax cuts were flying out of the building that year, and they contributed to the budget shortfalls that followed a short time later.“

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