BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Gov. Bobby Jindal signed next year's $24.5 billion budget Friday, along with the package of tax changes to balance the spending plan without steep reductions to public health care and colleges.
The Republican governor agreed to a 50-cent cigarette tax hike that will boost the per-pack tax rate to 86 cents and to charge a new tax on electronic cigarettes and vapor products.
He signed bills to cap the state's payment on film tax credits at $180 million annually for the next three years and to scale back an array of other business subsidies by 20 percent, 25 percent and 28 percent across the board through June 2018.
Signatures on the bills came despite threat of lawsuits by businesses that will be affected by the tax changes — and despite film industry claims that the cap legislation was a "death sentence" for Hollywood South and the thousands of jobs attached to it.
Also getting Jindal's signature was a $50 fee increase for car buyers.
In all, the governor supported bills that will raise more than $700 million to help finance state government operations in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The package of budget and tax bills passed in the final hours of the legislative session that ended last week, closing a difficult set of negotiations over how to address a $1.6 billion budget gap without damaging college campuses and health care programs for the poor.
"The budget continues the trend of making smart reductions to the size of government, while strengthening the state's health care system and protecting higher education," Jindal said in a statement announcing the bill signing.
Before signing the budget, he struck out more than $16 million in health care programs that would have been paid with hurricane recovery dollars. Jindal said federal restrictions don't allow the money to be spent as lawmakers proposed.
One of the vetoes was expected to shutter a program that cares for newborn and premature babies with severe medical conditions.
Another Jindal veto removed language that would have barred the Louisiana State Police from paying for the governor's security detail to travel with Jindal for "campaign purposes" as he readies a presidential campaign expected to be announced next week.
To keep Jindal from vetoing the tax bills that helped balance next year's budget, lawmakers on the last day of the session agreed to create a tax credit on paper to protect the governor's anti-tax record. Jindal signed that measure into law Friday as well.
The tax credit — called SAVE — doesn't raise new money or cut anyone's taxes, but was used by Jindal to claim an offset against other tax hikes balancing the budget. Jindal has closely guarded his record on a no-tax pledge he signed with an organization led by national anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
Lawmakers said they were embarrassed about the maneuver. Even those who supported the SAVE legislation called it a gimmick, but they said they'd rather pass it than face deep slashing to college campuses.
Also signed Friday by the governor were budget bills to finance legislative agencies; pay for the Louisiana Supreme Court and other parts of the state judiciary; and rebalance this year's budget before the fiscal year ends June 30.
Jindal also agreed to a construction budget for next year that has $385 million more in projects than the state has money to spend, leaving him to select which projects advance.
Louisiana Legislature: http://www.legis.la.gov