By Marsha Shuler
and Koran Addo
Capitol news bureau
June 06, 2012
The Louisiana Legislature gave final approval Monday to legislation that would allow six parishes, including East Baton Rouge, to levy a tax on automobile rentals and leases.
An East Baton Rouge delegation fight in the final hours of the session over the distribution of the tax proceeds threatened to derail chances of getting about $750,000 in estimated new revenues.
But last minute negotiations resulted in a compromise that was then approved by the House and the Senate before the session’s end.
Without the deal not only East Baton Rouge’s effort was in jeopardy, but the ability of Lafayette and Caddo parishes to tap into the automobile tax as a revenue source as well.
The dispute came as a conference committee report on Senate Bill 350 came up for a vote in both chambers.
The Senate Bill 350 conference committee report expanded the number of parishes in which voters could approve the 3 percent automobile rental or lease tax to include East Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Caddo parishes along with Orleans, Jefferson and Calcasieu.
The addition of East Baton Rouge did not create the problem. It was the disposition of tax receipts that prompted objections and moves in the Senate and House to return the bill to conference to change it. The effort in the Senate failed, but the House opted to send conferees back to the negotiating table.
The compromise version ultimately approved and shipped to the governor’s desk would earmark 40 percent of the tax proceeds to the Arts Council of Baton Rouge, 15 percent to the Shaw Center for the Arts and 15 percent each to the city-parish, sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office.
The Senate approved the multi-parish auto rental tax 34-1 and the House 72-9.
The original conference committee version of SB350 would have sent 60 percent of the tax receipts to the Arts Council, 23 percent to the Shaw Center and 17 percent to city-parish government.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, said the legislation requires parish government to direct 83 percent of the funds to arts entities. “We don’t have an arts problem in this parish. We have a crime problem,” he said.
“I like the arts and support the arts. But this is public money going to the arts where here in East Baton Rouge Parish we have a problem with crime, with roads,” said state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.
In the House, state Rep. Hunter Greene said he has a problem with taxpayer money going to non-governmental organizations like the Arts Council and the Shaw Center.
“To carve out 83 percent and say it will automatically go to these entities is the wrong way to do that,” said Greene, R-Baton Rouge. He said he would rather give the money to the East Baton Rouge Metro Council to use at their discretion.
State Rep. Regina Barrow called the complaints over the bill “political retaliation” by White and Claitor who she said are upset over the failure last week of proposal that would have created a new public school district in southeast Baton Rouge.
Barrow sponsored a separate bill, House Bill 971, that would have allowed East Baton Rouge Parish voters to consider the tax had earlier been sent to a conference committee over a Senate change to allow 20 percent of the funds to go to the sheriff’s and district attorney’s office.
Before the session adjourned, the Legislature approved a version of it that inserted the new auto rental tax distribution formula and added the potential of Ouachita and Rapides parish voters approving such a tax. That legislation also goes to the governor’s desk.