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|Lawmakers hail tax cuts in reflecting on session|
State Sen. Mike Walsworth described some $300 million in income tax cuts approved by the Legislature during the 2008 Regular Session as "historic."
"Repealing the Stelly Tax was the biggest individual tax cut in the state's history," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
Walsworth was referring to the Legislature's approval of legislation offered by Sen. Buddy Shaw of Shreveport. The bill will roll back some state income tax rates to pre-2002 levels, or before voters approved a "tax swap" known as the "Stelly Plan." Though the tax cuts take effect in 2009, taxpayers won't see relief until they file their tax returns in 2010.
Under the "Stelly Plan," voters approved the elimination of a one-cent state sales tax on food, prescription drugs and utilities while approving an income increases in state income tax rates. Though the tax swap was intended to be revenue neutral, it created a windfall for state coffers.
Praise about the tax cuts have been largely overlooked, though, amid reaction to the Legislature's approval of a bill that more than doubled the annual compensation for state lawmakers. .
Senate Bill 672 by New Orleans Sen. Anne Duplessis raised the base pay of state representatives and senators from $16,800 to more than $37,000 beginning July 1.
That move has drawn widespread criticism from voters and attention in the media, too.
State Sen. Francis Thompson blamed the media for what he called "the hype" about pay raises. He said the medias reporting on the legislative pay raise is distracting the public from the progress the Legislature achieved in other areas, such as income tax cuts and a tightening of ethics reform matters that lawmakers initially approved in a special session earlier this year.
"I understand that the media has made this the issue," said Thompson, D-Delhi. "The public hasn't made it the issue, but big media and big press has made it the issue."
Thompson said he voted against every legislative pay raise for 33 years. He voted for a pay hike this year because he hopes it would attract quality candidates to run for legislative seats.
Thompson said people should look at other areas of government, such as the judicial system, before criticizing the legislative raises as excessive.
"Name me one part or parcel of government that has not had a raise since 1980," Thompson said. "Name one person, one group associated with government that hasn't had a raise."
Thompson said legislators were one of only two groups of public servants he was aware of that always fall under public criticism when money becomes an issue.
"They get upset when the preacher gets a new car, thinking he ought to be working for nothing," Thompson said. "They think the same thing of legislators."
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann said he hoped the people in his district would recognize the accomplishments made by their representatives during the Regular Session.
"Obviously what's gone on with the pay raise has overshadowed everything that has happened," said Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. "So, that's the first thing that comes to mind, unfortunately, because we did a lot of other good things."
Hoffmann pointed to teacher pay raises and some $4 million in additional funding for Ouachita Parish Schools.
Hoffmann lauded his colleagues for working to approve a $1,000 bonus for non-classified support personnel who work in school systems throughout the state.
Hoffmann said the Regular Session provided many valuable lessons for the first-term lawmaker. He believes he was most affective in dealing with educational concerns.
"I found my niche in the education department," said Hoffmann.
Hoffmann worked for more than 30 years in public education in Louisiana before retiring to run for the District 15 House seat.
State Rep. Kay Kellogg Katz and Sen. Bob Kostelka did not return telephone calls to comment.