Friday, 17 June 2011 12:40
CABL: Jindal, Louisiana Legislature Should Get Real
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Jindal-LegislatureFor close to an hour-and-a half on Thursday the House of Representatives was uncharacteristically quiet. That’s remarkable because the House is never quiet. But there was hardly a peep out of lawmakers or the audience in the packed chamber as one legislator after another went to the microphone urging their colleagues to override the governor’s veto of a measure to renew a four-cent tax on cigarettes.

 

On the one hand it was pure political theater of a serious nature as House members pushed to override a gubernatorial veto for only the third time in modern history. A few weeks earlier, despite a veto threat from the governor, the same House mustered the two-thirds vote needed to renew the cigarette tax. The word around the chamber was that the vote to override was going to be close, but when the lights on the voting machines came on, it was anything but that.

 

Only 58 members voted in favor of the override, 12 short of the 70 that were needed. So that issue, which both directly and indirectly affected a lot of what’s happened during this legislative session, is dead. It’s unfortunate it came to all of this.

 

Tax renewals are not uncommon and virtually no one considers renewing a tax that has been on the books for more than a decade a tax increase. But the governor did, and since his mantra has been a zero tolerance policy on increasing taxes, it set up an unnecessary political showdown. Adding to the weirdness was the fact that this was a tax on cigarettes and nowhere in the country is any state cutting taxes on tobacco. In fact, the opposite has been more the norm.

 

What this did, though, was have a ripple effect on other issues that was unforeseen and unfortunate. In higher education, for example, where some common sense adjustments in tuition and fees are warranted, the veto threat effectively killed serious discussion of those matters.

 

Legislators were miffed because on the one hand they were being asked to approve a modest inflationary increase in operational fees at colleges and universities worth about $6-$7 million, while on the other hand the governor was spiking the $12 million renewal of the cigarette tax. Clearly, that made no sense to them and the operational fee bill got only 10 votes out of the 70 that were needed for passage. That’s the way things work at the Capitol.

 

The other big tax issue that’s dominated this session is the ill-advised push to repeal the state’s personal income tax. Legislators in the House and Senate, both Republican and Democrat, have been selling this notion as a smart move that’s doable and will shrink the size of state government. That’s a nice thought, but it’s laughable and an insult to the citizens of the state.


 

 

Despite what they say, there’s no real plan that describes how we would actually do that and not rip a giant hole in an already shrinking budget. Their “plan,” such as it is, would be to review and eliminate some of the millions of dollars in existing tax exemptions and credits already on the books. But eliminating tax breaks would clearly be seen as an “increase” in taxes. Does anyone seriously think the Legislature or the governor are going to do anything that might be construed as an increase in taxes? Let’s get real!

 

At the same time, the politicians are silent on what critical services would be decimated if we cut an additional $2.4 billion or so out of a state budget that’s already seen roughly $2 billion in reductions. We’re going to do this and really not hurt public education, cripple colleges, maintain TOPS, reduce access to health care, close prisons or default on our billions of dollars in various kinds of debt? Again, how about a reality check!

 

For now that legislation has stalled because of an amendment that was added to require an additional legislative vote in the future to actually enact the tax cut and the bill’s handler did not want to go forward with it unless it included an outright repeal. The scary thought is that 46 House members, only seven shy of the 53 needed for passing the bill, agree with him. Thirteen members were marked as absent when the vote was taken so this issue is probably not dead yet.

 

No matter where you go, people don’t like taxes. That’s a given. But on a daily basis all of us rely on the things taxes pay for whether we want to admit it or not. Here in Louisiana, though, we have politicians that continue to fan the populist flames that somehow we can get something for nothing, or at least get something and let someone else pay for it. That sentiment is strong enough on its own without the need for political types to play it up even further, mislead the public, and hinder our efforts to become the great state most of us aspire to be. What a disservice to our people.

By CABL (Council for A Better Louisiana)
First Published on its website 

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