Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision last week to veto a sales tax exemption for the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Monroe places the college at a disadvantage compared to other medical schools in the state, says the lawmaker who sponsored the tax break.
Under House Bill 148, VCOM could have bought or rented medical equipment for its educational programs without paying sales taxes.
During the recent legislative session, HB 148 garnered the approval of the state Senate on a 37-0 vote and drew only one nay in the state House of Representatives, where 97 other members signed off on the tax break.
“Currently, VCOM acquires different medical equipment and secure certain technology to conduct their educational components,” said Rep. Michael Echols, who authored HB 148. “This would have given them a needed sales tax exemption and placed them in the same posture as other medical schools in our state.”
VCOM is one of four medical schools in the state, also including Louisiana State University’s medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport as well as the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
Edwards vetoed the legislation on June 29 and took aim at Echols, a Republican from Monroe, in a public statement.
“While I have strongly supported this school and congratulate the administration for successfully completing its first year of operation, I do not believe that the author of the bill made a sufficient case of why this tax exemption is necessary at this time,” Edwards said. “I will be more than happy to have discussions with the leadership of the school over the next year to determine whether this issue needs to be revisited in a future session.”
Dr. Ray Morrison, dean of VCOM’s Monroe campus, declined to comment.
VCOM opened its Monroe campus in 2020 in partnership with the University of Louisiana-Monroe, with a focus on addressing the shortage of physicians in the Delta region.
Echols denounced Edwards’ veto as a “terrible idea.”
“The governor claimed the author failed to make the argument, but I think the argument is very clear,” Echols said. “I think we have a huge shortage of medical care in Louisiana, especially in this region, where we need more doctors and medical professionals.”
According to Echols, the sales tax exemption was estimated to save VCOM some $500,000 to $750,000 each year.
“It’s important that those dollars are available to help the college instruct the next class of people providing medical care in rural northeastern Louisiana,” Echols said. “I think it’s both short-sighted and detrimental to the citizens of Louisiana, who are served by VCOM and the medical professionals graduating from that school.”
As noted by Echols, VCOM has national accreditation through the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.
Osteopathic medicine emphasizes the interrelated unity of bodily systems and leverages the human body’s natural ability to heal in an effort to prioritize body, mind and spirit as equally important elements in an individual’s health.