By Times Staff
Taxes, voting machines and stimulus money, the same thing being talked about on the national level, will highlight the upcoming session of the Louisiana Legislature when they meet in Baton Rouge early next month.
Natchitoches Senator Louie Bernard, who was sworn into office Jan. 13 of last year, says the hottest topic of the session however, may be the centralization of sales tax collections.
“One of the big things being talked about right now, that I’ve talked to a lot of you about, is the centralized sales tax collection,” he told the Agitators group Wednesday.
“You know the Wayfare decision by the Supreme Court made it okay to charge sales taxes on online purchase, but they’re not going to let business remit into 64 parishes. You can only do that if you have a centralized collection agency.”
Bernard said, “The sheriffs, the school boards, police juries and municipalities, I think you are afraid of the dark because you don’t know what’s out there. I think they are afraid of a lot of things that are connected, they fear about it.”
He added, “But I’ve told everybody I hope they will take the time to listen to both sides and then if we come away with it not being a good idea then it’s not a good idea.”
This is a fiscal session; it’s all about tax reform.
Bernard said Bret Allain, who is the Chair of Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, and Stuart Bishop, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, have been working a long time on a package. They are co-authoring.
“It’s going to involve a lot of things.” Bernard said. “Like taking away the federal deduction on your state income tax, the elimination of the corporate franchise tax and replacing or phasing out the inventory tax.”
“Those are not popular things with a lot of people but they will be hashed and re-hashed and talked about,” he added.
He said Winnfield Representative Jack McFarland is coming with a gas bill. “Jack’s doing that out of a sense of frustration,” he said. “We go to bed at night and wake up with bad roads and salvinia.”
The senator said the governor’s budget was a $36.6 million submission. That is based on recommendation with no cuts to speak of. He said about $56M more is going to higher education. “They are going to use a lot of that federal money to plug holes they have been able to plug,” Bernard added.
So this year is not going to be the crucial budget time that next year is going to be.
“I think all of them are going to be cognizant of the fact that you can’t use non-recurring revenue for recurring expenses. I trust they would do that. It would be pretty foolish to do otherwise,” he said.
Bernard, who is a former Natchitoches Parish Clerk of Court, took the opportunity to address the issue over the purchase of new voting machines for the state.
“Y’all know about voting machines and all the controversy with that,” Bernard said. “I will tell you this, they have gone back to square one with voting machines.”
“For two years we have had someone with the loudest megaphone in the world saying the voting was irregular and not proper. That’s hard to get out of someone’s mind. I’m an election official; I was for 24-years,” he added. “I have faith in the people we have in our parish to run the election system. I can’t talk for some of the other states and don’t know what really happened there.”
He said, “You have to remember our voting machines are individually set up. You can’t hack the whole system. You’d have to hack into every individual machine and that’s not normally how that’s done. I do know this; when they take a voting machine and decide which one they are going to use. They are going to put that machine in the middle of a room and they’re gonna let every expert under creation come in and try to make it not work.”
“My point is this, by the time they get through the certification process, whenever that may be, I’m going to feel comfortable with that machine because it’s going to have to go through a lot of stuff. Particularly, in a day and age and an environment where so many do not trust the voting system.”