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The revenue crisis in Louisiana is worse than anticipated, according to Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards. The state is short $750 million this fiscal year, which must be accounted for by the end of June. Next fiscal year, which starts in July, will put the state $1.9 billion further in the hole. Edwards has said he will unveil a “menu of options” to address the shortfall in advance of a special session he plans to call next month. He will likely ask lawmakers to consider revenue raising measures to help soften the impact of spending cuts in the current year and to boost available revenue for next year’s budget (which will get sorted out in March).
A tax cut for the middle class took effect on January 1 in Arkansas. Gov. Asa Hutchinson won approval last year of a 1 percent cut in the income tax rate for those making between $21,000 and $75,000, at a cost of $135.7 million over the biennium. Hutchinson sees the cut as the first step toward a broader income tax reduction, but he has no plans to propose new cuts before the 2017 legislative session. But some lawmakers and advocates warn that the income tax cuts will lead to further cuts in state services such as the state’s severely underfunded preschool and child welfare programs. “That’s just a huge amount to come out of the budget and we’re seeing a lot of current unmet needs in Arkansas,” noted Ellie Wheeler of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Pennsylvania officials still haven’t reached an agreement on their state’s budget (now almost seven months past due), but that hasn’t stopped them from approving the funding of tax breaks for corporations. Gov. Tom Wolf conditionally approved several requests for tax credits from businesses, including breaks for donations to private schools, film tax credits and credits for research and development. Apparently, this represents a reversal for the governor, who said last Tuesday that emergency funds recently made available for school districts and social services would not be used to fund tax credit programs. The state government approved 3,000 requests for the education tax credit, up from 2,700 last year. Businesses can take a 75 percent credit on their donations (up to $750,000) to organizations that provide scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wants his state’s legislature to reconsider its earmarking practices, saying that automatically directing new revenues to specific purposes can reduce flexibility in funding state priorities. Herbert specifically argued that money earmarked for transportation could be better spent on educational priorities. “We’re coming to a point where there’s a crossroads decision, because if we don’t reduce some of the earmarks, we will have a difficult time funding education, particularly higher education,” noted the governor. Some lawmakers have also argued that the automatic earmarking practices prevent the state from regularly reviewing if funds are being spent efficiently.
Snack lovers in Maine will pay a little more at the register this year. Since Jan. 1, a number of products including marshmallow fluff and beef jerky were added to the sales tax base. The sales tax base expansion was one element of the tax reform package passed by the legislature last summer which also included a permanent hike in the sales tax rate, significant changes to the state’s personal income tax, and the introduction of a refundable sales tax credit.