Bayou Steel aid on legislators’ minds

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2002


BATON ROUGE – Topping the list of local concerns at the special session of the Louisiana Legislature is Senate Bill 55, authored by Sen. Joel Chaisson II, concerning tax breaks for Bayou Steel in LaPlace.

At latest report, the bill sailed through the senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs and a parallel House bill sponsored by Rep. Gary Smith Jr. likewise did well in the House Ways and Means Committee. Smith anticipated floor votes on the Bayou Steel bill next week, and said, “We’re trying to keep the mill running and people employed.”

The bill calls for the steel mill to take $2.5 million in state tax credits immediately, rather than during the next 15 to 20 years, as originally planned. The national downturn in steel has prompted the industry, one of the largest in the parish, to lay off workers and slash work hours in a cost-saving effort to sustain the company.

Meanwhile, Bayou Steel has been unable to pay taxes or use the earned tax credits for installing $16 million of recycling equipment between 1991 and 1998, but has only used $650,000 in tax credits available now.

In other matters, during all the hoopla regarding the training center for the New Orleans Saints, improvements to the New Orleans Arena and the Morial Convention Center and incentives for the Charlotte Hornets, Chaisson eased through another package for his district.

The amendment was a mandate for the Saints to continue its summer training camp at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, a summertime attraction which drew thousands of visitors and boosted the economy.

As far as the other related matters, Chaisson admitted to being perturbed at all the talk labeling the sports bills as “going into (Saints owner) Tom Benson’s pocket.”

On the other hand, Chaisson said, “I’ve said all along that as long as the money comes from New Orleans and from self-generating revenues, such as concessions and naming rights, then I’m for it.”

However, as he said, “My main concern was for the Nicholls situation.”

The ballyhooed bill to cut off revenue from federal office-holders to use their campaign warchests to run for statewide office is dead in the water, Chaisson continued.

“It’s already killed in the House,” Chaisson said.

The Senate voted 23-14 to ban the notion, which essentially torpedoes Cong. David Vitter from running for governor next year. The embittered Vitter blamed Gov. Foster for the bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. James David Cain in 1999.

On the House side, Rep. Bobby Faucheux pushed through an amendment to House Bill 45, sponsored by Rep. John Alario.

The original bill was to raise the hotel-motel tax in New Orleans from 12 to 13 percent and raise the tax on food and beverages in New Orleans restaurants and bars fro 9.5 to 9.75 percent.

The purpose is to raise money for renovation work at the Morial Convention Center.

Faucheux’s amendment tacked on an amendment to exempt convenience stores and groceries that sell food and drinks.

“It was to make sure the local people weren’t taxed on the Convention Center,” Faucheux said, and said he should have targeted specific areas of New Orleans which are heavy in tourist spending, such as the French Quarter and the Museum District.

Most of his efforts have been on study resolutions, including calling for studies on regional economic development districts, allowing hunting with dogs and the use of camps in the Maurepas Wildlife Management Area and establish the use of rental cabins in state parks.

“The stuff’s been getting out of here,” Faucheux observed.

The economic development council resolution, for example, is for a mechanism to make such commissions more fiscally accountable.

In another House matter, that body voted 100-0 to advance a proposal to return silent prayer back into public schools. Back in 1999, silent prayer in schools was declared unconstitutional by a district judge and denied in appeal in December.

Rep. Gary Smith Jr.’s legislation is also sailing through. A bill to allow Shell Chemical to clean up Bayou Trepagnier passed the Wildlife and Fisheries Committee on Wednesday and was expected to clear the House floor without difficulty.

The matter developed since Bayou Trepagnier was placed on the Scenic Rivers list and not allowed to be disturbed, despite years of past dumping of heavy-metal wastes by that industry.