The latest effort at “tax reform” at the State Capitol is another legislative dodge, a way for so-called lawmakers to avoid the hard decisions that have only now been forced on them after a decade of something-for-nothing tax cuts.
Are the feckless followers now the “leaders” who will reverse their mistakes? One can doubt that happy outcome.
The Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy is one of many over recent years and is touted as the independent panel of policy experts who can offer up ideas. Unfortunately, with the legislators we have, what level of research and deeper insight will provide them with courage?
“Never have I ever heard or read as much talk about reforming the budget as I’ve heard now,” Covington Republican Rep. John Schroder said during the group’s most recent meeting. Schroder sponsored a bill during the special session that formed the group, but it includes no legislators. “There’s never been that conversation before.”
What baloney. Schroder’s several terms in the Legislature have coincided with years of warnings about the tax cuts and generally live-for-today tax policies under Gov. Bobby Jindal. Schroder and the bulk of the GOP caucus were the principal followers, but not the only problems; racially charged politics prevents even the most pressing reforms in state institutions protected by the Legislative Black Caucus.
But it is the GOP’s craven disavowal of responsibility for policies of the past eight years that is fueling today’s crisis.
The issue is political will, and with a new governor who is willing to sign tax bills, the legislators haven’t been willing to take the politically tough decisions.
Exhibit A is the deep income tax cuts of 2008. Those are the principal offender in Louisiana’s current crisis, although legislators’ utter dependence on special-interest lobbyists hasn’t stopped them from layering on additional business tax cuts in the meantime.
The business community is fearful of telling legislators that they ought to reverse the income tax cuts; after all, with most businesses in Louisiana as LLCs instead of traditional corporations, profits are taxable as personal income. But the shower of tax breaks and exemptions for favored industries is unsustainable without new taxes; the short-term expedient of an “emergency” sales tax is never going away unless those revenues are replaced by income tax increases.
Businesses also pay sales taxes, it might be noted.
That’s simple enough arithmetic that even legislators ought to get it. Perhaps the grandly named new “task force” will point out the obvious, again, and lawmakers will vote against what they perceive to be their own political interests?
The Legislature’s version of “leadership” does not work that way.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is no Wizard of Oz. He cannot find courage in this pride of cowardly lions by giving them a medal. In fact, he’s in the unhappy situation of distributing the pain instead of promising benefits for tax increases, something an earlier Gov. Edwards was so good at.
If the experts come up with an agenda — not a menu, not options — that corrects the Jindal failures, and the governor and business community back it, perhaps there will be a two-thirds vote in House and Senate. But that would require putting aside partisan politics entirely. One can doubt whether the GOP caucus, torn between its hardliners and moderates, has the interest in doing so, much less the leadership capacity to sell a solution to its voters.
Edgar Mouton: In the joyless chambers of the State Capitol these days, the spirit of Edgar Mouton is missed more and more. The former senator’s quick wit and talent for defusing anger with a joke had become a lost art in politics even before his death at age 86. He will be missed, and where will we get another like him?
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.