Gov. Bobby Jindal says people shouldn’t be surprised that, even as the state faces a potentially devastating budget crisis, he won’t consider revenue-generating proposals he sees as tax hikes.
“I was very clear when I ran for office that I was not going to raise taxes,” Jindal said Thursday during a 30-minute meeting with Louisiana reporters at the State Capitol. “We’ve been consistent for seven years. It should not come as a surprise to anybody that in the eighth year we continue to oppose raising taxes.
“It may be novel for folks to see a Louisiana elected official do what he says he’s going to do, but I’m absolutely committed to keeping my word to the people of Louisiana,” Jindal said.
House and Senate budget panels have been holding hearings this week on key areas of the budget, including higher education. Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall in the coming year. Jindal has steadfastly opposed any proposal that would be seen as a tax increase, but legislators have expressed frustration over his vagueness regarding ways the state could fill the budget gap.
Jindal’s media briefing largely expanded on the talking points from his State of the State address earlier this week. He spent nearly half of the briefing defending legislation that aims to create legal protections for people who oppose same-sex marriage. The “Marriage and Conscience Act” has been linked to controversial “religious freedom” measures in Arkansas and Indiana and has been criticized as promoting discrimination against gay people.
Jindal said Thursday that he believes the bill will gain traction in the Legislature, despite those objections.
“I think this bill will get the support it needs to get out of committee and pass on the floor,” he said during a meeting with reporters at the Capitol. “A lot of legislators, once they understand what the bill does and doesn’t do will come out in support of the bill.”
IBM, which is opening a technology services center in downtown Baton Rouge, expressed “strong opposition” to the bill in a letter penned earlier this week.
“A bill that legally protects discrimination based on same-sex marriage status will create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees, and is antithetical to our company’s values,” IBM Senior State Executive James M. Driesse wrote to Jindal. “IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law.”
He went on to urge Jindal to “work with the Legislature to ensure this legislation is not discriminatory.”
Echoing remarks that bill sponsor Republican Rep. Mike Johnson, of Bossier City, made on the House floor earlier this week, Jindal said he believes opponents of the bill don’t understand it because of “misperceptions or misunderstandings.”
The “Marriage and Conscience Act” seeks to bar the state from revoking the licenses of or refusing to contract with businesses or people because they oppose same-sex marriage. It also would protect tax statuses of groups that only support marriage between a man and a woman.
“I think as folks see what the bill does, how it’s been narrowly drafted … I think there is more and more support,” Jindal said.
He expressed a similar sentiment in his reply to IBM.
“I hope you and your colleagues will cut through the smears and misconceptions being spread about this bill and learn about what it actually seeks to accomplish,” he wrote.
Johnson has offered up several amendments to the bill, which he says clarifies that its intent is not to promote discrimination. But gay-rights proponents have said the changes make the bill worse.
“None of the changes actually change the fact that the bill is authorizing discrimination against gay and transgender people” Matthew Patterson, of Equality Louisiana, said in a statement.
Jindal, who is flirting with a run for president in 2016 and has made frequent trips out of state this year, told reporters he’s sure that the state Legislature will come up with a budget solution before session ends June 11.
“At the end of the day, I’m confident it will all come together,” Jindal said. “I don’t think there has been an agreement on the final details or parameters, but we’re in the fourth day of session.”
Without offering specific details, the governor said he expects a patchwork of legislation will come together to make the budget whole.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of different moving pieces being considered next week,” Jindal said. “It’s a complicated process.”
One proposal Jindal is pushing would scale back tax breaks for some businesses and generate half a billion dollars, but Jindal said he doesn’t see that as an increase because the companies are getting reimbursements from the state. He has repeatedly referred to the setup as “corporate welfare.”
“The state is actually paying back to businesses in excess of their tax liability,” he said of the refundable tax credits. “To me, that’s expenditures. It’s government spending.”
Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.
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