"A failure to act is not an option," the experts say of reforming Louisiana's tax system.
We're not so sure that applies to the Louisiana Legislature.
Failing to act has been a problem for the past several years, as lawmakers wrestled with the gap between state spending and revenues. In desperation, a slew of short-term fixes have been passed since the last year of Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and the first of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
And while taxes have been raised to fill some of the gap, the tax system has arguably become much worse, with a one-cent sales tax increase and other changes that make taxes more complicated for business. And the hot mess only gets hotter in 2018, when many of the short-term tax increases will expire.
Failure to act? The Legislature has that down.
What is clear, given the record, is that changing the tax system will take more courage and cross-party alliances than we've seen so far with a GOP Legislature and a Democratic governor.
The heart of the several tax changes pushed by the blue-ribbon tax panel is a grand bargain, giving conservatives lower tax rates and giving liberals new revenues by broadening the base of taxes.
There are several ways to achieve that. The business-led Committee of 100 for Economic Development worked out options more than a year ago, and the blue-ribbon panel has considerable overlap with those ideas.
But the bottom line for us is that the state must get rid of the emergency penny of sales tax, passed last year and expiring next. To make up that large a change, one in five pennies of the state sales tax, big new revenues must be generated, probably through the income tax.
The reasons for skepticism that the lawmakers will act has to do in part with the mechanics of the process. It's one thing to cut tax rates, an easy vote. But then several hard votes would be needed to raise other revenues to offset the losses.
Each hard vote represents, in the minds of politicians, the opportunity for an unscrupulous attack ad denouncing lawmakers voting for a new system, even if overall the state is far better off with a new system entirely.
Parts of the tax system that might be changed are locked into the state constitution, so the people would have to vote for amendments; legislators are quick to say, covering for their inaction, that the people won't vote for this or that. So why try?
A certain portion of the GOP caucus in the Legislature is going to be reflexively anti-tax on everything — the damaging path that Jindal led them along until the money ran out. Now that the state is in such a fix, the never-taxers are unrepentant, even as their Jindal policies cratered state finances.
Is there a two-thirds vote that can be had in House and Senate come April for a tax package? The old answers to the same questions still apply, in terms of policy, but the obstacle is politics.
Failing to act is not an option, unless obstructionists will it to be the case.
A blue-ribbon panel is planning to issue a stinging denunciation of Louisiana’s tax system o…