- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s senators passed several bills Friday that would raise taxes and scale back business subsidies to help raise new dollars for next year’s budget, to stop deep cuts to public colleges and health care services.

“If you voted for any of the past budgets that helped get us into this mess, you’re going to have to help get us out of it,” Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said at one point during debate about the revenue-raising bills.

Among the biggest-ticket items approved by the Senate were a temporary suspension of a 1-cent state sales tax exemption on the purchase of electricity, steam and water for utilities by businesses; and a 72-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase, along with tax hikes on e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

Suspending the sales tax exemption would raise $107 million for one year, while the tobacco tax increase would raise at least $170 million annually.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Suddenly everybody in here wants to raise taxes,” said Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, who voted against the cigarette tax and some other tax bills.

Also backed by the Senate were measures to close corporate-tax loopholes, to limit the tax credit Louisiana residents can take for income taxes paid to another state and to make retailers and restaurants ineligible for the state’s Enterprise Zone tax credit program.

The proposals go next to the House and are part of the broader, ongoing budget negotiations between the two chambers about the fiscal year that begins July 1. Another half-dozen tax bills are scheduled for consideration by the Senate on Saturday. The Senate’s version of the tax package raises more money than the House-passed version.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry continued its so-far unsuccessful efforts to kill many of the bills in the package. The lobbying group sent out emails urging people to “Take Action! Stop massive tax increases on businesses,” saying the proposals disproportionately affect employers and companies.

One of the longest debates Friday wasn’t on a tax bill, but on a $50 fee increase on car buyers, to help generate $60 million a year for the Louisiana State Police.

The proposal, approved in a 35-4 vote, would increase from $18.50 to $68.50 the title fee paid when a person buys a new or used car and the salvage title fee when a wrecked vehicle is deemed a total loss and either disassembled or sold. It also would bump from $15 to $65 the permit to sell that allows a towing company or repair facility to sell vehicles abandoned by their owners.

Adley said the fee increase would cover the cost of providing the service. He said the bill would allow Louisiana to stop using gasoline tax money that should be spent on roads to instead fill gaps in the state police budget.

Bill opponent Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said she disagreed with funding state police “on the backs of the poor people of the state.”

“We’re chipping away at the pocketbooks of the people of this state, and you think they’re not watching,” Peterson said.

Supporters of the $50 increase said taxpayers have been subsidizing the costs of the title registrations and transfer.

“We have historically provided services to the people of this state for much less than what it costs to do them,” said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner. “Now, we’re in a budget crunch.”

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