- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Democratic chairman of the House tax committee sided with his Republican colleagues Wednesday to bottle up one of the main money-raising tax bills sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards in the special legislative session.

Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson cast the tie-breaking vote to stall the Democratic governor’s proposal to decrease an income tax break given to upper-income earners. The committee voted 10-9 against the bill, keeping it from advancing to full House debate.

Edwards described rejection of his proposal as “putting politics over people.”

The proposal by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, would have raised $117 million to fill gaps in next year’s budget by cutting breaks for taxpayers who itemize deductions on their income tax returns.

Shadoin said 74 percent of individual taxpayers don’t itemize for things like home mortgage interest payments, charitable contributions and medical costs. The change would return Louisiana to where the tax break was in 2007, from allowing 100 percent of those excess itemized deductions to 57.5 percent.

Supporters said state government needs the money to keep health, education and other programs from facing steep cuts in the financial year that begins July 1, when Louisiana faces a $600 million shortfall.

“I’ve got roads that are crumbling back home. I’ve got a juvenile justice center that’s got no funding,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville. “To me this is something that is very, very important, and I think the entire body of the Legislature ought to be able to look at it.”

Opponents said they couldn’t support further taxes on their constituents, months after lawmakers voted for tax hikes that raised an estimated $1.2 billion for next year’s budget.

“They’re being laid off left and right. People are struggling,” said Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice. “Sometimes I just think we have to stand up for our constituents and say enough’s enough.”

Shadoin said his bill would affect people making more than $103,000 a year and he didn’t consider that “struggling.” He said he’s receive more phone calls from people in his district worried about cuts to colleges and health services than worried about tax increases.

Higher education leaders, people who rely on the state for health services and public school officials talked of the threat of budget cuts ahead of Wednesday’s vote, urging support for additional taxes.

That didn’t persuade enough GOP committee members or Abramson. Only three of the committee’s 12 Republicans sided with Democrats in support of the bill.

The governor said lawmakers who voted against the tax proposal were choosing to cut the TOPS college tuition program, colleges, K-12 education and health services.

“That’s the choice they will have to defend to their constituents,” Edwards said in a statement.

A day earlier, the committee passed tax proposals that would generate an estimated $211 million for next year’s budget. Edwards is pushing for additional revenue to close the full $600 million hole.

Republicans, particularly in the House, are resisting many of Edwards’ tax proposals.

Documents recently circulated by GOP lawmakers and others opposed to the tax hikes suggested Louisiana could tap into more federal financing from the Medicaid expansion starting next month, to help bail out the budget without raising taxes.

Health Secretary Rebekah Gee said next year’s budget already assumes $184 million in Medicaid expansion savings - and she said that’s all the savings available by taking advantage of enhanced federal financing rates for health services that Louisiana currently provides for the poor and uninsured.

“That is a misnomer that we have this money. If we had had it, we would have built it into the budget,” Gee told the Ways and Means Committee. “We have left no stone unturned.”

The documents being circulated came from Bruce Greenstein, a former Louisiana health secretary who opposed Medicaid expansion when he worked for then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. Greenstein didn’t return a call about the presentation.

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House Bill 11: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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