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Homestead exemption changes may be doomed
Pearson bill rejected; little time remains

Friday, May 29, 2009

By Robert Travis Scott, Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- The chances for a change in the homestead exemption in the current legislative session were dimmed Thursday when a House committee killed one of the more favored proposals and left several others in limbo.

The session began with unusual momentum for a homestead increase after a mobilization effort by Jefferson Parish Assessor Lawrence Chehardy, a publicized online petition for citizen support and an unexpected endorsement for a particular initiative by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

More than 30 bills were filed to change the exemption, which removes the first $75,000 of a home's value from the property tax assessment. Some would have doubled it. A proposal supported by Jindal would have increased the exemption with inflation.

The business lobby opposed the increases out of concern that the bills would have further shifted the local tax burden from residents to businesses. Variations of those bills have received hearings in House and Senate tax committees but appear unlikely to get panel votes.

Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego, a longtime champion of a homestead exemption increase, said Thursday that barring any unusual events, the bills for increases are dead for the session.

Moving in a different direction was House Bill 252 by Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, which would have assessed the first $10,000 of a home's value and exempted the value between $10,000 and $85,000. The bill would have netted about $64 million in higher local taxes because several hundred thousand homeowners in Louisiana would for the first time be assessed a value on their homes, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated.

Several House members thought the Pearson bill had a good chance of passing, but the House Ways and Means Committee dashed that speculation with a 9-5 vote against it Thursday. Panel Chairman Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, supports the measure but was not in the room for the vote.

Greene said he was disappointed at the failure of the Pearson bill and would consider reviving the initiative. The other homestead exemption initiatives also are clearly in trouble, but no measures can be counted out entirely, he said.

"Nothing's really ever over until the sine die," Greene said, referring to Latin term that will end the session June 25.

Little time and opportunity remain for bills that have not gone beyond the first committee stage of the legislative process. With few exceptions, the Ways and Means panel must now focus on legislation from the Senate.

Greene said the committee owes a hearing to a tobacco tax increase bill by House Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. The bill would create a 50-cent-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes. The committee failed to gather enough members for a quorum to hear the bill two weeks ago, but no new hearing has been scheduled.

The committee on Thursday passed a bill that would continue the state's motion picture investment tax credits.

Also, Rep. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace, won approval for House Bill 683, which provides a tax offset on royalty payments for deep-underground oil and gas drilling and production. Greater New Orleans Inc. has led a coalition of industry groups in supporting the bill to generate greater exploration of gas reserves more than 15,000 feet below the surface.

The bills now go to the House floor.





September 2006