Special session winding down

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 12, 2002


BATON ROUGE – As the legislative special session nears its end, the collective eye of the House and Senate are looking toward a wrap-up possibly as early as tomorrow.

Local delegates are keeping their own scorecards as to whether a brief respite between now and the start of the regular session is more valuable than continuing to plow through the remainder of the bills.

“It would save the taxpayers money,” said Sen. Louis Lambert, who estimates the legislative progress to be on schedule. “A lot of bills were introduced that won’t be passed. But those were mostly local bills.”

Lambert expects the majority of Gov. Mike Foster’s economic stimulus package, the focal point of the session, to pass intact. Though the majority of it has yet to be addressed by either legislative body.

“It seems like the emphasis was placed on the New Orleans Saints and the Charlotte Hornets from the way it’s flowing,” said Dist. 58 Rep. Roy Quezaire.

The measure to approve an increase in the hotel/motel tax in the New Orleans area to support the Saints and encourage the Hornets to relocate to the area has been well publicized, and the legislators have offered support with the mandate that monies from the general fund not be used.

“If there’s a way to keep our existing professional football franchise and bring in an NBA team. Then I’m for it. It does a lot for greater New Orleans,” said Lambert.

Dist. 57 Rep. Robert “Bobby” Faucheux Jr. pointed out that the New Orleans Arena, where the Hornets would presumably play, has needed an additional $10-15 million to complete the locker rooms and luxury suites, and the NBA team would provide the impetus to complete the job.

“Other than a few concerts and minor league hockey, we’ve had an $110 million building sitting practically vacant,” said Faucheux.

Faucheux was pleased with his amendment to the bill which exempted grocery stores and convenience stores from the tax increase.

“That would have been another regressive tax on the poorest people in Louisiana,” said Faucheux, who all along has maintained that food should not be taxed as a “discretionary purchase.”

Quezaire voted in favor of the measures to help the Saints remain in Louisiana, and to attract the Hornets to the area. But his decision was primarily due to the bill’s structuring that only impacted the team’s local tax base, rather than Louisiana as a whole.

“The people I represent won’t go to games anyhow because they can’t afford the tickets,” he said.

Quezaire said he would have preferred a greater emphasis placed on areas of Foster’s plan that represented what he referred to as “true economic development,” but Faucheux said he thought the package was going through on schedule.

“There’s been a good push to effectively do something. Louisiana has always needed a good salesman, and Foster’s doing a good job.”

As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Faucheux gets a first-hand look at the economic development bills. He said the Quality Jobs Act had come before the committee four times to be re-written before it finally passed. He is concerned that the bill will be killed when it comes to a vote before the full assembly, however, after Shreveport Rep. Lydia Jackson added an amendment that included gaming industry employees.

“The fact that we allow them to make a profit on gaming in this state is enough,” said Faucheux, who hopes that amendment can be struck before the vote.

Tax credits for technology and biotechnology are also progressing this week, according to Faucheux. Laboratories are planned for New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and possibly Lafayette. While LSU and Tulane University have the capability for gene research centers. Bills providing incentives to the film and television industry are receiving strong support as well. Local representatives point to these measures as the ones that will finally provide the diversified marketplace Louisiana sorely lacks.

Faucheux and Lambert cited successful examples of economic development in the surrounding states they are mirroring, crediting the new economic development clusters for providing expertise.

“Louisiana has focused on large industries only previously. It would be good to show a balance and provide inducements to encourage all sizes of industries into the state,” said Lambert.

The legislators agree that expanding the Ernest Morial Convention Center will be a tremendous boon to economic development efforts, with Quezaire pointing out that it will give Louisiana the most square footage of convention space in the nation. They’re all pleased with the unanimous passage of the bill that will allow LaPlace-based Bayou Steel to receive a $2.5 million tax credit as a cash infusion.

“They’ve earned that cash,” said Faucheux.

Faucheux said he plans to introduce resolutions to study possibilities for helping smaller businesses, such as the swamp tours and airboat tours that are thriving on the Blind River. He sees the possibility for compromises with Wildlife Management, who own a million acres of land, for parks and recreation areas in the wildlife preserves when it’s not mating or hunting season.

“We keep saying we need more incentives for small business that celebrate our region and culture. Nobody else has water the color of the Blind River. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the state,” said Faucheux.

If the session closes this weekend as anticipated, the entire legislative session would be 70 days, about three weeks less than in 2001.

Legislators will use that time to prepare for the upcoming fiscal session, as well as attending to their own business practices back home.

“We’ve got to make a living,” said Faucheux.

Sen. Joel Chaisson and Dist. 56 Rep. Gary Smith were unavailable for comment as of press time.