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|Officials question sales tax measures|
Three bills under consideration in the regular legislative session would determine whether local governments continue collecting and distributing sales taxes.
House bills 440, 442 and 453 are three pieces of legislation that—collectively--would remove the responsibility of sales tax collection and disbursement from local governments and place that authority with the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
House Bill 440 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the state the authority to collect and distribute sales taxes. It would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for passage. A vote of the people in a statewide election also is required for the proposal to become law.
The other bills are accompanying legislation, which would set up the bureaucracy to allow the state to collect and distribute sales taxes.
Ouachita Parish Police Jury president Walt Caldwell said he believed Ouachita Parish had a system of tax collection and distribution that worked and added he hoped to have input before any proposals were passed by the Legislature.
"I think our input should be considered by our legislators," said Caldwell. "Likewise, I'd like to know how the city of West Monroe and the city of Monroe feel about it."
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said he would encourage local governments to oppose the plan because the current system of local revenue collection seems to be working.
"The system works well the way it is," Mayo said. "I don't know what the motive would be to change it."
The three bills would effectively eliminate local sales and use tax collection and consolidate that authority in the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
Currently, each municipality has the authority to levy and collect sales and use taxes.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said he wanted to know more about the proposals, but he emphasized his belief that the closer government was to home the better.
"I have not read the bill or the analysis of it," Norris said. "I will leave it up to our local legislative delegation to decide the issue."
Norris questioned how the proposal would handle audits of local funds and respond to potential problems within municipalities.
"I don't know if the system we have now is perfect, but I don't see how this would be an improvement over what we have now," Norris said.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth pointed out the proposal had not made it out of committee in the House of Representatives but said he had heard of the plan and would look at it if and when it moved to the Senate.
Walsworth said one potential benefit of centralized tax collection could be avoiding confusion.
Walsworth noted one company in his district, Voight Inc., was told by an auditor that certain services Voight provided were not liable for sales taxes.
When a second auditor later disagreed, that left Voight in the uncomfortable position of either telling existing clients the original price was wrong or absorbing the full sales tax itself, Walsworth said.
"I'm not saying the state is the best collector of taxes, but it could avoid situations like that," Walsworth said.
Walsworth expected the bill would face opposition in the Legislature.
"I would think this proposal will have a little tougher road than some other proposals," Walsworth said.
State Sen. Neil Riser said none of the governments in his district have voiced support for a centralized tax collection scheme.
Instead, Riser said he has heard nothing but opposition to the bills.
"From what I've been hearing, I haven't heard a lot of proponents," Riser said. "I've heard a lot of opponents to it."
Riser also questioned whether the bill had enough local support to pass the required vote of the people.
"No one in any of my parishes wants to change to this proposed law," Riser said.