The Louisiana Legislature has ended its 2000 regular session
– but the danger of an expansion of legalized gambling remains, Ken Ward
warned. Indeed, gambling opponents need to be wary – and watchful – of an upcoming
special session of the Legislature. The special session is necessary because
legislators failed to pass a state budget during their recently-completed session.
The Louisiana Legislature has ended its 2000
regular session – but the danger of an expansion of legalized gambling remains,
Ken Ward warned. Indeed, gambling opponents need to be wary – and watchful –
of an upcoming special session of the Legislature. The special session is necessary
because legislators failed to pass a state budget during their recently-completed
And the gambling lobby is expected to act in full
force during that session for favorable legislation that would give them an
even stronger hold on the state, said Ward, executive director of the Louisiana
Moral and Civic Foundation.
“The thought of a special session by an obviously
pro-gambling Legislature is a scary thought for any in our state who are still
thinking,” Ward insisted.
“Concerned citizens should get ready and be
prepared to do what they can when legislators convene, probably within a few
days. Pray even now that the mighty hand of God will show his Power, even if
it includes his wrath against those who knowingly would bring harm to our state.”
The scenario for an expansion of gambling during
a special session remains troubling – and very, very possible, Ward explained
late last week.
The special session is needed after one of the most
unusual sessions in legislative history, Ward pointed out. During the session,
legislators passed various tax measures but failed in a last-minute effort to
pass a budget.
The failure is even more ironic when one realizes
that the recently-completed session was a fiscal-only affair. The primary item
of business for legislators was to approve a budget.
They failed to fulfill that purpose – and throughout
the session, the power and influence of various lobbies in the state were plainly
evident, including that of the gambling industry in Louisiana.
Even some legislators and elected officials have
complained about them. “Many, including the governor and legislative leaders,
indicated that lobbyists, such as those with the alcohol and gambling industries,
exercised for too much influence on the legislative process,” Ward noted.
During the recent session, legislators passed several
measures of impact, Ward pointed out. These included measures to:
Implement a1 percent sales tax on grocery food and
utility bills, which is estimated to raise about $110 million.
Eliminate about one-half of the state income-tax
breaks for people who itemize on their state income tax payments, which is estimated
to raise about $70 million.
Eliminate the $25 per child state income tax credit,
which is estimated to raise about $18 million.
Raise cigarette taxes by four cents per pack, estimated
to raise about $18 million.
Those actions need no further approval.
In addition, legislators acted to revamp the state
income tax law. However, state voters must approve those actions in a November
That is not at all a sure thing, Ward noted. “Even
the proponents say that if the proposal is complicated and will be a hard sell,”
The plan calls for:
An increase in state income taxes by an estimated
$765 million a year in an effort to to modernize the tax code of Louisiana.
Elimination of the state sales tax on food and utilities.
Use the increase in income – estimated to be at least
$315 million a year – to fund a pay raise for public school teachers and college
and university faculty.
Meanwhile, despite the many maneuverings and speculations
associated with the session, legislators failed to approve a tax increase on
beverage alcohol, Ward pointed out. Both the state House and Senate passed substantial
increases on beverage alcohol, but the alcohol lobby managed to defeat them
all, Ward noted.
Legislators also failed to increase taxes on river
boat gambling – but that fight is far from over, Ward noted.
It also is far from assured from the standpoint of
Indeed, the state House approved a tax increase of
river boats less than an hour before adjournment. The bill also would have allowed
local elections to determine if riverboats could engage in full-blown dockside
gambling, a trade gambling leaders have embraced – and promoted.
However, the measure was defeated in the state Senate
by only one vote just prior to the end of the recent session, Ward said.
It is almost sure to be pushed again in the special
session, which could begin as early as this weekend, he warned.
Ward admits the whole scenario leaves him troubled
– and should be a point of considerable concern for all Louisianians.
“As an observer of the legislative process for
25 years, I found that perhaps the most alarming thing about this legislative
session was the obvious special consideration given to the gambling interest
of our state,” the state leader noted.
“Over and over, legislators referred to the
gambling interest as an industry that has offered to help this state in
our financial crises. Little mention was made that everything it offered
to bring to the table had a net result of taking more away from
the table for their own profits and greed.”
Unfortunately, there seems to be little opposition
to gambling in the Legislature, notwithstanding recent corruption trials in
Louisiana concerning gambling, Ward said.
“Measures to regulate gambling and lessen the
pain and suffering to the victims of gambling appear to no longer be priorities
for a majority of the members of the legislature,” he said.
They must remain a priority with concerned citizens
as a special session begins, Ward emphasized.
He called on persons to watch the upcoming special
session and be prepared to communicate with legislators.
Ward reminded persons they may monitor pending legislation
and actions of the Legislature via the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation
website at www.lmcf.org.
“We must be vigilant,” Ward said. “We
cannot afford to be silent. The future of Louisiana is in the balance.”