- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - State senators agreed Saturday to trim a wide array of tax break programs and shrink spending on Louisiana’s film tax credit, as they continue to work on ways to balance next year’s budget.

The tax changes that won passage, combined with similar bills a day earlier, are part of a larger puzzle. Behind-the-scenes negotiations continue between the House and the Senate about how to generate new dollars to stop deep cuts to public colleges and health care services.

Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who presented several of the tax proposals, said he expects the final deal over how to raise taxes and lessen state subsidies for business to be cobbled together in a six-member legislative conference committee of House and Senate leaders.

“We’re dealing with multiple, multiple bills that at the end of the day are going to have to come together,” he said.

Time is short. The legislative session is in its final days and must end by Thursday.

The bills passed with such heavy changes that even the Senate’s financial advisers didn’t immediately have an estimate Saturday of how much money would be raised. The Senate’s goal had been to drum up about $750 million, to correspond with the $24 billion budget proposal it intends to consider Monday to pay for government programs and services in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Among the biggest-ticket measures passed Saturday were four proposals to make across-the-board cuts of 20 percent, 25 percent and 28 percent to a wide array of tax-break and tax-incentive programs.

Provoking the heaviest debate was a bill that would cap the tax credits Louisiana gives to film and TV productions at $180 million a year.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, unsuccessfully tried to persuade his colleagues to phase out the program entirely within five years.

“This industry should stand on its own,” he said.

Appel said the state has spent $1.5 billion on the tax credits since the program began more than a decade ago. Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, said the state shouldn’t be spending so much on the film program while cutting higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

“We are literally giving this state away and refusing to do what we need to do to grow Louisiana. We grow Louisiana when we grow education,” Long said.

Opponents of the phase-out said turning off the spigot on the subsidies would chase the industry from Louisiana and kill thousands of jobs connected to it.

“We’re going to give it a haircut,” Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, said of the film tax credit. “But let’s not give it a crewcut and let’s not behead it.”

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the state has spent billions on tax breaks, and he said the film tax credit shouldn’t take the bulk of criticism about the giveaways. He said the “film investment represents less than 3 percent of the money” spent on tax breaks.

“I am tired that people use film in the shell game as the big, horrible bad guy,” Morrell said.

Only nine senators voted for Appel’s proposal to eliminate the tax break. Twenty-seven senators voted against it. The Senate then passed the bill to cap the program with a 32-5 vote.

Passed a day earlier by the Senate were: a $188 million tobacco tax hike; a temporary suspension of the 1-cent sales tax exemption on business utilities; a limit on the tax credit Louisiana residents can take for income taxes paid to another state; and a prohibition on retailers and restaurants participating in the Enterprise Zone program.

Versions of the measures passed by the Senate were, in many instances, heavily rewritten from the proposals passed by the House. House leaders object to some of the changes, particularly a hefty boost to the tobacco tax increase.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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