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|Solons applaud work of special legislative session|
An additional $515 million will be spent this year on infrastructure improvements around the state after legislators acted quickly to approve Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to spend some $1 billion in surplus funds.
The Legislature wrapped up a special session late last week in which lawmakers approved a host of tax cuts for the business community and divvied up a more than $1-billion surplus, which resulted from the 2006-07 fiscal year.
State Rep. Kay Kellogg Katz said the additional money for infrastructure projects showed the Legislature was responsive to the needs and demands of voters.
"The people have spoken and they want roads and bridges," said Katz, R-Monroe.
Katz highlighted a number of Ouachita Parish infrastructure projects that would receive additional funding, including repairing a dilapidated bridge across Black Bayou.
Ouachita Parish would also receive some $10 million for rural roads and bridges, Katz said.
Though the Legislature had more than $1 billion in surplus funds at its disposal, Katz said Jindal's call for the special session laid out a number of priority projects in need of funding.
Because the Legislature was in special session, lawmakers were limited in what they could spend that money on.
Among those projects, Katz pointed to a $57-million outlay for improvements to the proposed site of the Air Force cyber command center in Bossier Parish. Also, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge received $50 million.
"Right now, in the research area, we get $4 back for every dollar that is spent," Katz said.
Katz said funding projects such as Pennington Biomedical would help position Louisiana on the cutting edge of medical research.
Jindal also asked legislators to consider accelerating the elimination of a number of business taxes that business leaders had long pointed to as a hindrance to economic development in Louisiana.
Among the taxes Jindal wanted lawmakers to roll back were a one-cent tax on business utilities, a tax on business debt and sales taxes on the purchase of manufacturing machinery and equipment.
State Sen. Francis Thompson said he thought the rollback in taxes on business and industry would show the business community that Louisiana was "moving in the right direction."
"When you eliminate the one cent on business utilities, that makes a big difference to big companies that burn thousands of dollars a day worth of energy," said Thompson, D-Delhi.
Thompson also led a successful effort to extend the exemption of manufacturing equipment to farm implements.
Thompson said he led efforts in the 1980s to eliminate the tax and succeeded in suspending the collection of that tax on farmers. However, one hindrance to the exemption in the 1980s was a requirement that farmers request the exemption.
Under the bill passed last week, Thompson said farmers would be exempted just like manufacturers. That means Louisiana agriculture would be more competitive with the rest of the region, Thompson said.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth said attention to business taxes was the most important move by the Legislature during the special session.
"The elimination of the one-cent business utility tax, moving up the expiration of the MME tax and stopping taxes on corporate debt will have a tremendous impact in our attempts to attract businesses to this state," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
Walsworth also pointed to additional funding for the Greater Ouachita Port as symbolic of the Jindal administration's commitment to northeast Louisiana.
In appropriations approved by legislators last week, the port will receive some $1.3 million in additional funding to help offset inflated construction costs stemming from infrastructure improvement projects at the port in West Monroe.
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann applauded colleagues in both houses, not only for swift action during the special session, but for working closely with one another to ensure Louisiana continues to move toward progress.
"It's good that everyone is on the same page," said Hoffmann, R-West Monroe.
Hoffmann said voters in last fall's elections set the course for the governor and by extension, for the Legislature as well.
"We went down there expressly to do what the governor asked us to do," Hoffmann said.