Despite a last-minute flurry of appeals, a bid to gradually repeal Louisiana’s personal income tax at a cost of $5.4 billion was floundering and near death in the Legislature on Wednesday.
The 2011 regular session has to end at 6 p.m. Thursday and the chief sponsor vowed to press on.
“I am going to try every hour on the hour,” said state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete and chief sponsor of the plan, which is in Senate Bill 259.
But, despite repeated tries, Marionneaux was unable to clear a procedural hurdle Wednesday needed for the bill to get another hearing, and have any chance of final approval.
Meanwhile, critics called the bill misguided, and one that could wreck state services.
State Rep. Chris Roy Jr., D-Alexandria and a key player in the House debate, said simply phasing out the personal income tax — the largest single source of state revenue — would have put the disabled, hospitals and other key services on the chopping block.
Roy called the bill an election-year “feel good thing so that people could say they have done something when it is really irresponsible.”
The bill would phase out the state’s personal income tax over 10 years starting in 2014.
State revenue would be trimmed by $120 million initially and $5.4 billion when the bill took full effect in 2024.
Backers said taxpayers deserved the reduction, and some of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s critics were gleeful that it could force an anti-tax hike governor to sign or veto a massive tax cut.
The Senate approved the measure June 7. However, it included a debate-changing amendment that required the governor and other state leaders to develop a written plan that would be submitted to the Legislature next year.
That provision was stripped in a House committee, essentially put back in on the House floor June 16 and the bill has languished there since.
Marionneaux and other backers now have to muster a two-thirds majority — 26 of 39 in the Senate and 70 of 105 in the House — for the debate to move forward or the bill dies.
Marionneaux mustered 25 votes — one short of the magic number — in one of his first bids on Wednesday to reignite the debate in the House.
But state Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, was absent from the vote.
Marionneaux then approached the Senate lectern, told officials that Erdey “was in the bathroom” and tried his motion again.
But it failed on a 25-13 vote when Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, switched from a “yes” to a “no” vote.
There was a collective, “Ooh,” from the audience when it again failed.
“It’s just too late,” Heitmeier said when asked about his vote switch.
Later efforts missed the target by even wider margins, and efforts to revive the bill in the House failed, too.
“All the members who consider themselves to be fiscally conservative just hid behind a procedural motion,” said state Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge and House sponsor of the bill.
Critics said stripping $5.4 billion from state services would pave the way for a massive increase in personal property, sales or business taxes.
State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said while backers cited the lack of personal income taxes in states like Texas, they failed to note that sales taxes are around 50 percent higher there and personal property taxes far higher than those paid in Louisiana.
The Public Affairs Research Council issued a report earlier this month that called the bill flawed because it failed to include a plan to trim state spending or replace the lost income tax revenue
“Raising the hopes of citizens that personal income taxes will be reduced without identifying how to fill or close the gap is wimpish,” the PAR report says.
PAR calls itself a private, nonpartisan public policy research group.
Jordan Blum and Michelle Millhollon of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.