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|Solons applaud session|
State Sen. Neil Riser said people living in northeast Louisiana will enjoy a number of road and bridge improvements coming their way over the next few months.
Lawmakers in Baton Rouge approved most of Gov. Bobby Jindal's plans to spend a $1-billion surplus on one-time expenditures such as infrastructure improvements. Jindal laid out those plans in his call for a second special session of the Legislature.
Among the number of projects in northeast Louisiana that will receive priority funding, Riser pointed to a $6 million outlay for improvements to Highway 84 that he said was vital to the region.
"We've got various other roads in our district as well as bridges," Riser said. "A number of bridges in our district will be redone."
Though Riser, R-Columbia, voted against a resolution to lift the constitutionally-imposed spending cap, the senator applauded Jindal's commitment to economic reform.
"I agree with the governor on the monies and the one-time expenditures we used it for, the coastal restoration, the road projects," Riser said.
Riser said he understood the need for the projects but would have liked to see some of the surplus returned to the taxpayers.
According to Riser, some 55 percent of the almost $1.5 billion doled out by the Legislature came from personal income tax while only 16 percent of the money came from corporate taxes.
"With gas at $4 a gallon, we are really in an economic crisis," Riser said. "I felt personally that that money could have been used better by the tax payers."
State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said northeast Louisiana fared well during the special session, but he would have liked to see more funding for projects in the region.
"We didn't get as much as I wanted up here, but the priority needs had been set by the storm," Thompson said, referring to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita which struck Louisiana in 2005. "We're still dealing with that."
During the special session, which lasted just one week, lawmakers passed a number of bills to speed up the elimination of taxes on business and industry -- taxes that have long been targeted as hindering economic development in the state.
Thompson said the elimination of a 1-cent sales tax on business utilities would have a far-reaching impact on Louisiana's efforts to attract new industry and foster business growth across the state.
"When you eliminate the 1 cent on utilities, that makes a big difference to big companies that burn thousands of dollars a day worth of energy," Thompson said.
Thompson was also successful in his bid to expand a bill governing the elimination of sales taxes on manufacturing machinery and equipment to include farm machinery and equipment.
Farmers have been able to take certain deductions on farm equipment since the 1980s, when Thompson said he worked to suspend the collection of taxes on farm equipment and machinery.
However, Thompson said a large hindrance to that exemption was that farmers had to request the tax credit.
By including farm implements in the new legislation, the tax would not be levied, Thompson said. Also, the new law would benefit part-time farmers and those who own agricultural interests other than the traditional row-crop farm.
Thompson said he considers himself a farmer but doesn't get on a tractor every day and do the farming he used to do.
"My land is in trees now," Thompson said. "I still have to mow, spray and I still do some wheat fields."
Thompson called the special session on the budget surplus an "overwhelming success" and said the people of Louisiana will see work beginning almost immediately.
"The speed up of highway work around this state is going to have a very positive effect," Thompson said.