Ritchie reflects on just-ended session

Published 8:17 am Monday, June 29, 2015

Louisiana Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Pine, saw the tobacco tax he authored pass during the just completed legislative session, which ended on June 11.

Ritchie’s HB 119 was to raise cigarette taxes by 32 cents per pack. The Senate bumped the tax up 32 cents to $1.08 per pack. After all was said and done, lawmakers settled on a 50-cent added tax.

Ritchie said passing of the cigarette tax was major.

“We raised $106 million to go to health care. It goes into Medicaid match trust fund,” Ritchie said. “That raises probably between $200 and $300 million for federal health care. That money will be used to pay for partnerships. In total, we raised a little over $700 million in taxes. Sen. Nevers was a big help on the Senate side.”

A bill Ritchie worked on establishing an annual cap on the motion picture investor income tax credit is pending. The motion picture industry has made Louisiana a popular destination for making movies.

“We capped that credit at $180 million,” Ritchie said. “We had been spending about $250 million, which we spent last year.”

Ritchie worked with Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, on a bill to give a cost-of-living increase to retired teachers and state employees. However, Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed that measure.

Ritchie said the recent session was a battle all the way through.

“It went as well as could be expected,” Ritchie said. “It was a tough session all the way through.

Ritchie said the session simply bandaged certain areas.

“We didn’t fix any of our long-term problems as far as this session was concerned,” Ritchie said. “The only thing permanent was the cigarette tax. Other measures are good for a year or two and won’t be in effect any longer. The sales tax exemption will be in effect for 18 months.”

Ritchie said there is a small amount of funding in Capital Outlay.

“There is little money in there for Bogalusa, Franklinton and the parish government,” Ritchie said. “All that still has to go before the Bond Commission. At least $200 million of that is on the House side.

“We raised $700 million in taxes, and everything is revenue neutral, according to the governor, so the money will go to the Board of Regents,” Ritchie said. “But that was the governor’s scheme all along on getting around raising taxes.”

Ritchie said the session was one he won’t soon forget.

“It was a battle over the budget and a compromise on Common Core,” Ritchie said. “We’re looking at getting at more participation from local school boards and developing a plan for Louisiana.”