Smokers would pay an extra 22 cents per pack of cigarettes, beer drinkers 1 cent more for a cold one and consumers an additional penny in sales taxes, as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration began on Monday to spell out the tax increases he says are needed to plug the state’s massive budget holes.
But the Edwards administration couldn’t detail how much many of the individual bills would raise or the entire amount it is trying to raise in its tax package.
Edwards is telling audiences at every opportunity that the state needs to close about a $900 million budget gap by June 30 and a $2 billion budget deficit for next year’s budget.
The administration’s program calls for reducing the sales tax if voters approve tax increases on individuals later this year.
“The sales tax seems to be the one causing the most grief,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said in an interview. “The sin taxes have more support.”
Alario added that the plan to reduce the sales tax if the other taxes go up improves its chances of passage.
Edwards announced four weeks ago that he would seek a series of tax increases to plug the budget shortfalls that he and the new Legislature have inherited.
The task of providing the specifics fell to Kimberly Robinson, secretary of the Department of Revenue, when she testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the tax-writing panel. Ways and Means gets the first crack at the governor’s tax plans under House rules.
Committee members, especially the Republicans, expressed skepticism to Robinson as she described the various measures.
But a poll of the 19 members by The Advocate showed that only one member — Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton — has completely ruled out voting for a tax measure.
That should be good news for the new governor, who has said that balancing the budget this year and next by cuts alone would shut down LSU and other universities, as well as devastate care for the disabled and dozens of other state programs.
Some of the measures would require 53 votes in the 105-member House, a simple majority, while other bills would require 70 votes, a two-thirds majority.
“I am not fond of taxes. I would have a difficult time voting for them,” state Rep. Tom Willmott, R-Kenner, said in a comment echoed by others. “But I try to keep an open mind.”
Horton said she can’t vote for any taxes because “that’s what my district expects.” Besides, she added, “DHH (the state Department of Health and Hospitals) hasn’t collected billions owed to the state.”
Horton’s sharp opposition to taxes seems to mirror the thinking of the state Republican Party, which is using Edwards’ tax proposals as a way to raise cash for the party.
“Louisiana has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” wrote Jason Doré, the party’s executive director, asking the party faithful to pony up to $500.
Robinson listed sponsors for many of the administration’s measures.
State Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Mansfield, is sponsoring House Bill 27, which would raise taxes on beer, wine and spirits. In an interview, he noted that Louisiana has not raised its beer tax since 1948. The tax on each glass of wine would rise from about half a cent to 3 cents. The tax on liquor would rise from 3 cents to 4 cents.
“Every dollar we get can keep us from taking away money for hospice care and higher education,” Cox said, adding that alcohol industry lobbyists called him Monday morning to discuss their concerns about the measure.
State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is sponsoring House Bill 14, which would raise Louisiana’s cigarette tax rate from 86 cents per pack to $1.08. That would give Louisiana the 33rd-highest cigarette tax, up from 36th today.
The cigarette tax increase would raise $17 million during the final three months of the current fiscal year that ends June 30 and $81 million next year.
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, also is sponsoring a 22-cent cigarette tax increase, House Bill 3, but Leger is a member of the governor’s legislative team, and Hoffmann is not.
Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, is sponsoring the bill that would increase the sales tax by 1 cent, which, according to the Tax Foundation, would give Louisiana the highest combined state and local sales tax rate in the country. The sales tax increase would raise $216 million by June 30 and $800 million to $900 million next year, said Robinson. Jackson said she will file the measure Tuesday.
Besides the cigarette, alcohol and sales tax increases, the Edwards administration is proposing to raise taxes on telephones as well as eliminate various credits and exclusions that individuals and corporations use to reduce or eliminate the tax bite.
Jackson is sponsoring five of them: House bills 7, 22, 23, 24 and 25.
Leger is sponsoring four: House bills 29, 31, 32 and 34.
State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, is sponsoring House Bill 19, which would require companies to file corporate income tax returns on their state taxes if they file corporate returns on their federal taxes. Robinson said it would raise $100 million next year.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the session, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/ politicsblog/.