After sitting on dozens of tax bills for days, house members voted 73-25 to raise the state cigarette tax by 22 cents to $1.08 per pack. The bill by State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, would raise $46 million a year, $16 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year that ends on June 30.
“This excise tax will help stop the use of this product, while allowing us to raise some revenue in the process,” Leger told house members.
The house adjourned before taking up any of the remaining revenue bills, including higher taxes on alcohol.
Lawmakers must plug a $900 million hole in the state budget by March 9, the final day of the special legislative session.
“A lot of bills that are over here are part of a bigger discussion that’s ongoing about how we close that gap,” Leger said. “That’s why the maneuvering and why the bills are kind of being held up.”
The Senate Finance Committee cleared the way for the house to consider additional tax measures by approving a package of proposed budget cuts.
Members reversed most of the $44 million in house-backed cuts to the Department of Education. They also added $80 million in new revenue from a one-time refinancing of state bonds. The plan still requires the house to approve $83 million more in taxes.
“We got it clearly laid out for them with the action that was taken and a bottom line number now and hopefully, they’ll take some action and send some instruments over to us,” Senate President John Alario R-Westwego said.
“The budget that we put back together makes a lot more sense for vital needs of the folks here in the state of Louisiana,” Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans said.
Lawmakers say they now feel a lot more comfortable about the prospect of balancing the state budget by Wednesday. But, they admit, they are not there yet. The house reconvenes at 3 Friday afternoon, with many of the same tax bills sitting on the calendar.
(© 2016 WWL)