WASHINGTON -- As the
Christmas recess loomed last week, House and Senate leaders were
still wrestling over a $7.1 billion tax relief bill for Gulf Coast
businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Progress was stalled
because of an amendment that would exclude casinos, liquor
retailers and certain other businesses from getting
Tourism and gaming
officials in Mississippi and Louisiana, along with state government
officials, expressed concern that the amendment could keep the aid
package in limbo until early next year -- and unfairly discriminate
against legal businesses.
The proposed tax
relief is in addition to a much larger $35 billion aid package that
top government officials from Louisiana and Mississippi were
lobbying furiously to get passed before the holiday
The Senate should not
go home for Christmas until we fulfill our duty to the people of
the Gulf Coast, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), told
Gulf Coast state
officials expressed growing resentment toward Congress and the
White House for the slow pace of tax relief, direct aid and other
They were especially
unhappy about an amendment in the House version of the tax relief
bill, offered by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), to exclude casinos from
tax breaks, which drew accusations of playing social politics with
the recovery effort.
This diminishes the
incentive to re-invest here, said Steve Richer, director of the
Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau in Mississippi. We want
to see as much incentive as possible for reinvestment here ...
including the casinos.
conservatives have bristled at the idea of using tax money to help
rebuild casinos, which many of them view as objectionable
People say casinos
supply jobs, said Chad Hills, a gambling research analyst with
Focus on the Family, a politically active Christian organization
based in Colorado. I think the last thing we need is to rebuild a
predatory industry where their job is to take money from other
reportedly produces estimated annual tax revenue in Mississippi and
Louisiana of about $770 million.
Richer said the tax
relief flap is just one of many issues frustrating rebuilding of
the regions vital tourism business. Of some 7,000 applications for
Small Business Administration loans, only some 400 have been
handled so far, he said.
The House version of
the tax relief package was passed by a wide margin earlier this
month after Wolfs amendment was added. The Senate version, passed
earlier, carried no such restrictions on what businesses could
qualify. The differences forced the bill into a conference
committee, where the debate continued late last week.
In addition to
casinos, Wolfs amendment would exclude liquor retailers, race
tracks, commercial golf courses, tanning salons and massage
Wolf, who is not a
participant in the conference committee, was unavailable for
comment. But his press secretary, Dan Scandling, said the provision
is identical to restrictions that are routinely put on economic
redevelopment bills in Congress. He said he was not sure if that
language had been applied in the past to disaster
Hills said casinos in
Mississippi damaged by Katrina have already received relief from
state lawmakers who voted to allow casinos to move from floating
barges to previously prohibited land-based facilities. Theyve
already said they will come back bigger and better than they were,
Hills said. So why would they need taxpayer help?
Frank Fahrenkopf Jr.,
president of the American Gaming Association, labeled the exclusion
Our industrys No. 1
priority continues to be getting our 16,000 employees back to work
as quickly as possible, Fahrenkopf said. Calling casinos the
economic engine of the region, he said that leaving them out of the
relief package certainly goes against the spirit of any recovery
reporter Dan Luzadder, send e-mail to [email protected].