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Construction plan, cigarette tax remain on session agenda

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Written by
The Associated Press


BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers entered the final hours of their two-month regular session with most major issues wrapped up, except for a final decision on whether to renew a 4-cent cigarette tax.

Also outstanding before today’s 6 p.m. deadline was completion of a construction budget to finance projects for the upcoming fiscal year.

Deals appeared to have been struck by Wednesday about the construction budget and the cigarette tax, with the House and Senate agreeing behind the scenes to how the bills would be handled and guided to final passage.

The other major conflicts have been resolved. The largest item that needed completion — the state’s $25 billion annual operating budget — was wrapped up earlier this week, removing any worries that lawmakers can’t finish their work by the deadline.

“We’re in great shape,” said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown.

House leaders say they will go along with Senate changes to the multiyear, multibillion-dollar construction budget, called capital outlay.

Rep. Hunter Greene, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he was simply waiting to see the outcome of other bills before he agreed to final passage of the measure that bears his name. Greene said though the Senate added more projects in the budget bill than the state has money to spend, he won’t object to the more than $10 million in add-ons.

“From a policy standpoint, I’m not thrilled to death that it’s over-appropriated,” said Greene, R-Baton Rouge. “But it’s not a huge amount.”

Meanwhile, the Jindal administration and Sen. John Alario signaled they will allow the 4-cent per pack tax renewal to remain intact on a separate bill despite Gov. Bobby Jindal’s opposition.

The tax renewal, previously vetoed by the governor, was tacked into an Alario bill sought by the administration to dedicate an annual stream of tobacco settlement money to the state’s free college tuition program called TOPS.

Alario, R-Westwego, sent the proposal to a legislative compromise committee, but he suggested he won’t seek to strip the cigarette tax renewal from the TOPS bill. If it emerges, both the House and Senate will need to agree and then it will go to voters for final approval, bypassing Jindal’s desk.

The provision would renew the 4-cent tax, which is set to expire in June 2012 and generates $12 million annually. The battle over the cigarette tax has been one of the most contentious issues in the legislative session, which began in April. The renewal would keep the state tobacco tax at 36 cents per pack.

Also outstanding, the Senate planned to vote Thursday on whether it will confirm several Jindal administration appointees to cabinet agencies, university boards and other panels. Only one appointee has publicly run into trouble: Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein, who has received a mixed response from senators about his handling of a contract that his former employer is in line to receive. Still, his confirmation was sent Wednesday to the full Senate for a vote.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate gave final passage to a series of smaller tax breaks for businesses and residents. But the biggest tax break proposed this session — to repeal the state’s personal income tax — was killed this week with a series of procedural votes Tuesday and Wednesday by both chambers that didn’t allow the measure to be debated on the House floor in the final days of the session.




Written by demon53

June 23, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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