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The Louisiana Legislature wrapped up the recent session, charting spending of federal pandemic aid and moving toward a centralized sales tax collection in Louisiana.

More than $1 billion was carved off for two legislative priorities: $563 million for road and bridge work and $490 million to shore up Louisiana’s near-bankrupt unemployment trust fund and repay money borrowed to cover jobless benefits.

Along with funding infrastructure and unemployment issues, District 32 Sen. Glen Womack highlighted water system, agricultural technology and conservation projects.

Water Sector Commission

Womack was selected to be on the Water Sector Commission tasked to develop ways to spend $300 million for repairs and improvements to community water systems.

He said many communities in his district are in desperate need of water and waste water system upgrades. Many local and statewide systems are 40 to 50 years old and are showing signs of aging.  

The newly created 10-member commission was scheduled to hold its first meeting Monday to start setting up the process of sifting through rehabilitation processes and ways of spending funds.

“The legislature put back $300 million to spend this year and $300 million next year on water and waste water (projects) from the American Rescue Act,” Womack said. “We are going to be able to set up the criteria. We’re looking at rating each system, and we want to encourage anybody who has money to put up some for system improvements.”

Womack acknowledges $300 million is a small amount to improve systems statewide and needs local municipalities to work with them.

The lawmaker also wants local municipalities and water organizations to be able to sustain their systems through possible rate increases if needed.

“Get your rates up where they need to be,” Womack said. “Make sure you have a plan of sustainability. We’ll build it, but you have to be sustainable.”

Rep. Neil Riser, who also serves on the commission, gave a bleak glimpse into Louisiana’s water and sewer infrastructure if matters were not addressed.

“Here is the number to remember,” Riser said. “2030 is crisis and 2050 is critical mass on water. It is now 2021. We have to do something now. This is a big deal.”

Centralized Taxes

Bills for centralization of state and local sales tax collection, the continued suspension of small business franchise taxes and simplified corporation tax rates were discussed during the session in depth.

HB 199 called for centralization of state and local tax collection using a  commission made up of eight Senate confirmed members.

The commission will provide supposedly streamlined electronic filing electronic remittance and collection of all sales and use taxes levied against sales made in Louisiana.

Riser said the new centralized tax code helps small businesses.

“The local tax collector still has complete say,” Riser said. “The state may have somebody that is not going to remit and the local tax assessor knows them. The flip side is a businesses that is really big and has the ability to hold out, the state can now pursue them.”

The bill now will go in front of Louisiana voters in a statewide election scheduled October 9.

SB 161 made several changes to corporation franchise tax including continuation of the tax suspension on the first $300,000 for small business corporations to July 1, 2023, reduction of the tax rate from $3 to $2.75 per $1000 of taxable capital above $300,000 and further rate reductions based on future corporation income and franchise tax collections.

Rate reduction provisions also must be adopted in the October 9 election.

HB 292 repeals the federal income tax deduction (FIT Deduction) and reduces the Louisiana corporation income tax brackets from five to three with rates of 3.5 percent, 5.5 percent and 7.5 percent.

The Pelican Institute for Public Policy, an advocate for a simpler Louisiana taxes, praised efforts of the legislature.

"Today, the legislature took the first step in crafting tax reform necessary to write Louisiana’s comeback story,” said Daniel Erspamer, Pelican Institute CEO. “Today’s actions start the process of simplifying our overly complex and burdensome tax code that has sent jobs and opportunity to other states and hurt Louisiana’s families for far too long.”

Erspamer went on to add, the plan creates stability and predictability.

"This plan creates greater stability and predictability, lowers income tax rates, eliminates the punishing franchise tax for 85% of filers, and guarantees that growth of state income will be used to lower rates in coming years. The passage of this package of legislation sends a strong message that families and entrepreneurs can thrive in the Pelican state and sends an opportunity to voters this fall to wholeheartedly endorse major reforms to increase Louisiana’s global competitiveness.”

Agricultural Technology

During the session, funds were allocated for a new agricultural technology course at Louisiana Delta Community College (LDCC) in Winnsboro, according to Riser. Under the ag tech program, participants receive safety instruction, equipment maintenance and operation.

Students will learn technology pertaining to four or five pieces of equipment, Womack said. The course is designed to instruct students on ever changing technology with construction and farm equipment. 

“The technology on this equipment has changed throughout the years,” Womack said. “This course will teach the students this technology.”

Womack, who owns several companies dealing with construction equipment, said contractors will partner with LDCC.

“We’re trying to get our contractors and our people, so we can work with the students,” Womack said. “We want to get involved with the students. Maybe even help them with tuition, so they can have a job when they get out.”

The course, scheduled to open in 2023, was one way the legislators want to establish agricultural sustainability, one of Riser’s top goals of the session. He also called getting the funds for the ag tech course important not only for Winnsboro but for the region.

Both legislators gave credit to DeAnne Kiper, LDCC Winnsboro campus director.

“DeAnne (Kiper) has been instrumental in helping us get funding for this ag tech course,” Womack said.

Additionally, LDCC will offer a separate heavy equipment vehicle operator (HEVO) course in August.

Curriculum is designed to be completed in two semesters with students spending majority of their time learning hands on with numerous types of equipment.

“The purpose of the HEVO program is to prepare individuals for employment as professional heavy equipment vehicle operators and tractor-trailer drivers,” Kiper said. “HEVO is a short-term training course designed for the heavy construction industry.”

Upon graduating, students will have National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) credentials level one and two heavy equipment operator, OSHA 10 and a commercial driver’s license (CDL). They will also receive a certificate of technical studies from LDCC.

If students want only the CDL, a course will be taught in the spring, Kiper said.

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