TaxGambit bf 0116.jpg

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, center, discusses pending legislation with Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee chairman Sen. J. P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, left, and a senate staff member, right, in the Senate Chamber, June 22, 2016.

BILL FEIG

The legendary Dutchman plugged the hole in the dike with his fingers, but J.P. Morrell is going to run out of digits long before the state Treasury runs out of tax breaks that are leaking revenues, day in and day out.

With the budget crises of the last decade having dominated much of his time in the Legislature, the New Orleans state senator has been trying to plug the leaks in state finances. As chairman of the tax-writing Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, he’s pushing a wide-ranging survey of hundreds of tax breaks and incentive programs.

We hope he can be successful.

Some of the tax breaks written into the law over the years are long past the time when they should have been repealed, because market conditions have changed so much.

From long experience, though, we can testify that getting rid of breaks is a difficult legislative task. Even those least relevant to the 21st Century are going to find defenders, although Morrell told The Advocate in a recent interview that a significant number of breaks his committee brought up for hearings had no public defenders.

Inertia has proved to be a powerful force, and the budget disasters of the last decade have been brewed in part because of a willingness of lawmakers to “incentivize” influential businesses through Louisiana’s complex and convoluted tax code.

“They haven’t been reviewed in decades,” Morrell said of the tax breaks. “To give away $1 billion in tax exemptions with no data on the return on investment was beyond comprehension.”

Morrell in his third term should realize how beyond shame are the interest groups whose representatives stroll the State Capitol corridors and pay for the campaigns of lawmakers.

What is needed is not just the rollback of some exemptions, but a major-league tax reform effort that will eliminate some of the breaks and exemptions. We are encouraged not only by Morrell’s initiative but by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ wide-ranging proposals for changing the tax code.

The best argument: “We cannot simply continue down the path that we’ve been on,” Edwards said during a news conference on Wednesday.

He is quite correct, but like Morrell’s repairs to the dike, every step will be contested by the adherents of the status quo.