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Story Archives: Pay raises shadow success of session
|Pay raises shadow success of session|
The 2008 session of the Louisiana Legislature ended Monday evening amid a flurry of last-minute bill passages.
While public attention has been focused on legislative pay raises, State Sen. Neil Riser said the defining achievement of the 2008 legislative session was a $300 million tax cut.
"The pay raise issue right at the end kind of overshadowed everything," said Riser, R-Columbia. "But we don't want to forget that Senate Bill 87 by Buddy Shaw did pass."
Shaw's bill rolled back the state income tax tables to pre-2002 levels, when voters approved a "tax swap" known as the Stelly plan.
Under the Stelly Plan, voters approved the elimination of state sales tax on food while approving an income tax rate increase. Though the tax swap was supposed to be revenue neutral, it ended up creating a windfall for state coffers.
Riser said repealing the 2002 income tax increases even overshadowed the reduction and elimination of business taxes passed by the Legislature earlier this year.
"That's going to do more to put money back in people's pockets than anything else we did," Riser said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he will not veto the legislative pay raises.
Following passage of SB 87, Riser was one of 20 members of the Legislature who signed a waiver to turn down the pay raise.
"I knew what the job paid when I ran for office," Riser previously said.
State Rep. Noble Ellington said the attention given to the pay raises was distracting Louisiana residents from the positive changes that came out of the 2008 session.
One of the major changes that will benefit people around the state is the 2008 budget, said Ellington, D-Winnsboro.
Ellington said that, while the budget has been balanced in previous years, those past budgets relied on one-time funds to pay for recurring expenditures.
The 2009 budget will eliminate all usages of one-time monies to pay for recurring expenses.
"That is a huge issue as well and the fact that, in this state, in this session, do the largest tax cut in history," Ellington said. "It doesn't seem to gain near as much press as the pay raise, which amounts to about $3 million over all the legislature."
Ellington said many of his colleagues would be using portions of the salary increase to help fund projects and charities close to home.
"My intentions are to use at least half of the raise for either local charities or scholarships and those kinds of things," Ellington said.
Ellington contended Jindal has made it more difficult to secure funding for local non-governmental organizations such as the Franklin Parish Council on Aging or the Schepis Museum.
Ellington said he was successful in securing funding for those groups but the governor has said he would veto much of the NGO funding.
Though some legislators have pledged part of his raise to help make up potential funding cuts faced by the groups in his district, Ellington said voters need to hold legislators to those pledges.
"I would hope that the people make us accountable to do that," Ellington said. "In other words, don't let me say I'm going to do it and then not do it."
Funding for the various local groups now lies in the hands of Jindal, who now must review and sign House Bill 1 -- the state budget.
Jindal is not expected to approve the budget before next week.