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|Legislature approves $6 million for Hwy. 15|
A rural highway running across central Louisiana from Mississippi to Texas will receive a much-needed infusion of cash following action taken by the Legislature in a special session that concluded late last week.
State Sen. Neil Riser said a $6-million infusion of cash will help kick off work on improvements to U.S. Highway 84, known nationally as the "El Camino Corridor."
Riser pointed to the highway as one of the priority projects in his district that will receive funding from a $1-billion surplus lawmakers appropriated in the special session.
"We've got various other roads in our district as well as bridges," Riser said. "A number of bridges in our district will be redone."
Gov. Bobby Jindal called legislators into a special session with a charge to use the extra cash on one-time expenditures, such as roads and bridges. Also, Jindal gave lawmakers the task of expediting the rollback of a number of business taxes.
State Rep. Andy Anders called the special session on the budget surplus "fair" and said all regions of the state were treated equally.
"Jindal's plans were to not forget rural areas," Anders said.
Anders said a number of state projects that received funding are critical to the economic health of the state and not just specific areas.
Anders said Highway 84 was an example.
"That's our key to the infrastructure, connecting this highway through Winnfield and on to Texas," Anders said.
A large portion of Highway 84 is complete in Mississippi and Texas. Anders said it now falls to Louisiana to connect those two roads.
"Sen. Riser and I will have to work to connect all the dots to make sure it leads somewhere," Anders said.
State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said northeast Louisiana fared well during the special session, but he would have liked to see more funding for projects in the region.
"We didn't get as much as I wanted up here, but the priority needs had been set by the storm," Thompson said, referring to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck Louisiana in 2005. "We're still dealing with that."
During the special session, which lasted just one week, lawmakers passed a number of bills to speed up the elimination of taxes on business and industry -- taxes that have long been targeted as hindering economic development in the state.
Thompson said the elimination of a one-cent sales tax on business utilities would have a far-reaching impact on Louisiana's efforts to attract new industry and foster business growth across the state.
"When you eliminate the one cent on utilities, that makes a big difference to big companies that burn thousands of dollars a day worth of energy," Thompson said.
Thompson was also successful in his bid to expand a bill governing the elimination of sales taxes on manufacturing machinery and equipment to include farm machinery and equipment.
Farmers have been able to take certain deductions on farm equipment since the 1980s, when Thompson said he worked to suspend the collection of taxes on farm equipment and machinery.
However, Thompson said a large hindrance to that exemption was that farmers had to request the tax credit.
By including farm implements in the new legislation, the tax would not be levied, Thompson said. Also, the new law would benefit part-time farmers and those who own agricultural interests other than a traditional row-crop farm.
Thompson said he considers himself a farmer but doesn't get on a tractor every day and do the farming he used to do.
"My land is in trees now," Thompson said. "I still have to mow, spray and I still do some wheat fields."
Thompson called the special session on the budget surplus an "overwhelming success" and said the people of Louisiana will see work beginning almost immediately.
"The speed up of highway work around this state is going to have a very positive effect," Thompson said.
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