An effort to phase out the state’s personal income tax stalled in the House on Thursday.
Some legislators balked at eventually eliminating $5.4 billion in revenue for state government. They said they wanted a plan for replacing a revenue source that represents roughly half of the state’s general fund. The fund pays for schools, hospitals and roads.
“Would you ever jump into a swimming pool without seeing if there’s water?” asked state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin.
The battle over Senate Bill 259 converged on how the Legislature should approach the repeal.
State Rep. Chris Roy Jr., D-Alexandria, successfully amended the legislation to require the recommendation of a study committee on how to replace the revenue that would be lost through the repeal. His amendment mirrored the Senate’s approach to the proposal but clashed with the House Ways and Means Committee’s effort to snip any strings attached to the repeal.
Roy said he wanted to ensure that the elderly, hospitals and roads still will receive funding.
State Rep. Hunter Greene, who handled the bill in the House, accused Roy of gutting the measure.
“(The amendment) puts it back in a way that doesn’t have any teeth in it,” he said.
Greene said the amendment would allow legislators to claim they voted for an income tax repeal that will never happen.
The House voted 57-35 in favor of adopting Roy’s amendment.
Greene, R-Baton Rouge, later tried to strip Roy’s amendment from the bill.
“The voters know when games are being played,” Greene said.
There is a plan for replacing the revenue, Greene said. Legislators will decide in the future whether to shrink state government, eliminate tax breaks that drain state revenue or do a combination of the two, he said.
Roy warned legislators not to buy a pig in a poke.
“Guess what goes? Your roads, your schools, your hospitals,” Roy said.
State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he already receives pleas for funding not to be cut. He questioned what would happen if the state’s personal income tax is eliminated.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable at all,” Fannin said.
State Rep. Ernest Wooton, No Party-Belle Chasse, urged legislators to take a chance on the repeal working.
“Life’s a gamble. Let’s take one,” he said.
In the back of the House chamber, Jones remarked to lobbyists about a day that started with letting the governor’s veto stand on a cigarette tax renewal and ended with a possible income tax repeal.
“We started up silly and we ended up moronic,” Jones said.
The House deadlocked on Greene’s amendment, voting 46-46 for it. The amendment failed.
Greene then returned the bill to the calendar, making it unclear whether the proposal will resurface before the Legislature adjourns next week.
SB259 would have phased out the state’s personal income tax over 10 years, beginning in 2014. The phase out initially would reduce state revenue by $120 million. By the time the tax was totally eliminated in 2024, state revenue would diminish by $5.4 billion.