With at least one meeting with prominent business leaders, Gov. John Bel Edwards appears to be fashioning what he’s needed from the beginning, a broader coalition for tax reform.
That's even if the coalition members, should they sign on, have to pay higher taxes, as is probably inevitable with income tax increases being fundamental to long-term reform. While the top rate of income tax could come down, the overall take has to rise enough to reduce the onerous emergency sales tax passed in 2016.
But it is not all about money.
It’s not about, either, many business leaders’ strongly dissenting views about the governor’s positions on lawsuits against the oil and gas industry, or education reform.
A coalition by its nature must not be comfortable, because if it is that means not enough folks of differing views are signed on to achieve the coalition’s objectives.
And what Edwards needs is not only a reach across the aisle by business leaders. He needs them to pressure, actively, the GOP leadership in the House that has stymied the governor’s tax initiatives.
Or rather, the initiatives that the governor has backed; most are not his ideas. Most of the proposals from the business-led tax reform panels, the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, the Tax Foundation — those are not radical or Democratic in origin.
Tax reform, whatever its myriad details, is mainstream and establishment in its major provisions. But those have been stymied by the GOP leadership in the one chamber, despite broad support for major change among members. In fact, the governor is probably correct that in a free vote he would win a majority of the House members, because he knows the thinking of the chamber in which he served two full terms.
It takes a two-thirds vote to raise revenues. It takes a passel of two-thirds votes to restructure the tax code, because even if other taxes are cut or expire from the books, it is irresponsible not to balance the books. In that way, sad to say, even today's dysfunctional United States Congress is better than the Legislature; the budget reconciliation process on Capitol Hill is intended to allow the books to be balanced, although the process is in some disrepute as health care bills have this year been pushed in the Senate through that mechanism.
Louisiana makes it harder, forcing all those two-thirds votes.
Once all that is achieved, if it is, then tax reform will probably require at least one or two constitutional amendments. That means votes of the people, and that means contributions to a political committee to make the case for tax reform. And guess where the money is for that.
People aren’t stupid. They know that the chaos of the State Capitol’s current budget crisis hurts their communities. It’s hurt most families through vastly higher tuition at colleges, and at purchases at the cash register.
But it hurts business most of all. Not only because of the financial crisis in colleges and universities that has hampered the state’s overall economic competitiveness, but in the uncertainty that hobbles business planning.
Edwards is asking a heavy lift of the business people he’s talking to. But it is ultimately good for them and for the state as a whole.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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