Local legislator plans to focus on revenue

Published 8:35 am Friday, March 13, 2015

Louisiana Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Pine, said he will introduce seven pieces of legislation once the next legislative session begins on April 13 in Baron Rouge.

Ritchie, who is in his third term, said six of his proposals deal with revenue. The final bill concerns constitutional amendments. He said all seven bills were filed on Tuesday.

Ritchie chairs the House Committee on Enrollment. Assignments also include Insurance, Ways and Means and the Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Outlay. Ritchie represents District 75, which includes Washington and St. Tammany parishes.

Ritchie said the Ways and Means Committee met with Dr. Jim Richardson of LSU and Dr. Steven Sheffrin from Tulane on Tuesday to request them to do a tax study on the state tax structure.

“They came in with a bunch of recommendations, but that is something we may not be able to do this session,” Ritchie said. “With $7 billion in tax exemptions, we need to look at our tax structure. Hopefully we can broaden and lower the tax rates.”

One of the bills Ritchie will propose to bring in revenue is introduction of a cigarette tax. Gov. Bobby Jindal recently introduced a cigarette tax of 80 cents per pack.

“My bill is higher than the one the governor introduced. Mine is a tax of $1.54 per pack,” Ritchie said. “I’m hoping we can meet somewhere in the middle.”

Ritchie is also looking to raise revenue from a tax on the movie industry, which is noticing Louisiana as of late, New Orleans, particularly.

“With the motion picture tax credit, we can reduce that credit by 25 percent and cap the program at $250 million, which we spent last year. Production companies in Louisiana hiring Louisiana people get a tax credit,” Ritchie said. “We were spending $50 million per year, but that has grown to $250 million per year. We’re getting much more production in Louisiana from the generous tax credit we gave the film industry.”

Fracking, or horizontal drilling, is also in Ritchie’s revenue-generating plan.

“We want to reduce the credit on horizontal drilling by 25 percent,” Ritchie said.

Another bill is reducing the inventory tax credit by 25 percent.

“It is something local tax assessors send out. Businesses pay it to the local assessor, and businesses file tax credits with the state. The state sends the business a check to reduce liability,” Ritchie said.

“I am also going to introduce a bill to shave 25 percent off income tax reduction on federal itemized reductions we give at the state level,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie’s final tax revenue bill deals with modifying enterprise zone tax credits.

“This bill is to help businesses locate in low-income neighborhoods,” Ritchie said. “We were giving tax credits to folks like Walmart for putting stores in places like Covington and Mandeville.”

Ritchie said revenue issues are going to be a battle.

“I think we’re going to have some movement trying to correct some of these revenue issues because we’ve cut college and universities and health care. Colleges, in particular, are cut to the bone, and we’re losing professors and staff because of cuts they’ve had to take through the years.”

Ritchie said his constitutional amendment bill looks to flip fiscal sessions.

“This is so we’ll have fiscal sessions in the first and third years, and general sessions in the second and fourth years,” Ritchie said. “When you get to the fourth year in a budget crisis like we’re in and need to raise revenue, it’s hard to get a legislator to vote for a tax increase in their last year knowing there is going to be an election six months later.”