Louisiana needs to do a better job of tracking hundreds of tax-exemptions and credits, the president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana Inc. said in a letter last week to a top lawmaker and a state official.

Research Council president Robert Travis Scott sent the letter to Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Jan Smith, secretary of the Department of Revenue.

The government watchdog group said closer scrutiny is needed of $866.5 million of sales tax losses listed as "other exemptions" in the tax-exemption budget published annually by the Department of Revenue.

At Donahue's urging, the 2012 Legislature created the Revenue Study Commission, which held its first meeting Monday. The panel of 14 lawmakers will present recommendations to the Legislature by Feb. 1.

Tracking of all state tax exemptions is needed, Scott said, but the sales tax should be the top priority.

The call for more oversight does not mean the tax-exemptions are unnecessary or do not serve a valuable purpose, Scott said. "They might be useful for incentives or worthy charitable causes," Scott said in the letter. "If the basic numbers could be tracked, the commission and the public would have a better opportunity for that discussion."

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