Gov. John Bel Edwards sets criteria for lucrative tax breaks for manufacturers _lowres

Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media during a press conference after the end of the second special legislative session. (ADVOCATE FILE PHOTO BY PATRICK DENNIS) 

The interest groups are agitated, the experts are panning the key concepts, people are uncertain, businesses don't know how much they're going to have to pay — it's a botched rollout of a central plank in the new administration's platform.

Not President Donald Trump and his stumbling health care bill. It's Gov. John Bel Edwards, and he's emulating the president with a surprise tax reform plan that the reformers who have so far been on his side seem to consider somewhere between mediocre and dreadful.

Trump says he'll insure more people. His bill does the opposite.

Edwards says, in the words of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson, he's aiming for "broadening our tax base and lowering the rates." This might do the opposite, at least for small businesses.

The merits of the new plan are going to be heavily debated this spring, after the questions are answered about what is in the plan. And that question-mark is a sign of the clumsy rollout of a gross receipts tax, an idea hardly discussed during months of debate over future tax policy.

It is no sign of political savvy for such a shift to be revealed in a leak to Jeremy Alford at lapolitics.com, with details to be discussed later from the governor. In communications terms, he's flushed the quail but has no shell in the shotgun.

Many of the participants in the months-long hearings on these issues were focused, as they thought the governor was, on the real problem: Former Gov. Bobby Jindal's income tax cuts have hobbled the state Treasury's receipts, and the way to fix those is to address that billion-dollar problem.

Legislators don't like the notion, but few thought that the governor had given up entirely on the real fix.

Apparently, he has.

What are the politically saleable points of a gross receipts tax?

Four states have a gross receipts tax. Louisiana's would be modeled on the one in Ohio, which imposes a 0.26 percent tax on all sales. Businesses that sell at least $150,000 a year must pay the tax.

Texas has one, and that's a fairly popular selling point. It's a prosperous neighboring state where too many Louisiana families have seen children and grandchildren emigrating.

Sure, the financial realities of Texas and Louisiana are much different, including the high amounts of property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay in Texas. But people think Texas knows what it's doing.

A gross receipts tax is simple to calculate, as it is basically a sales tax on what businesses take in. “It’s extremely simple. Your corporate tax return could be done on a simple sheet of paper," state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, told The Advocate's Tyler Bridges.

The best argument for the new tax is that we can't afford to go on like we are. The mathematics of the budget are so bad that any proposal puts an onus on Edwards' opposition to come up with something better: The best defense is a good offense.

Finally, it drains the swamp. Our swamp, on Capitol Lake in Baton Rouge, where the pestilential influence-peddlers get their clients out of corporate tax bills with breaks that the ordinary guy doesn't get.

Trump-lite? There's some truth in it. A gross receipts tax replacing corporate income and franchise taxes would eliminate many of the worst tax breaks ladled out to businesses, before Jindal and during his administration. A corporate income tax break doesn't help you if there is no more corporate income tax.

Is that reality? Certainly not, because some of the worst loopholes are in sales taxes and income tax credits and deductions. Nor is there going to be an end to lobbying in Baton Rouge, anymore than the new president is going to change the culture of Washington.

But if this turkey is going to fly, it's got to have some wind beneath its wings.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.