Louisiana will suffer chronic financial problems until we break the grip of the major oil companies on the Legislature and governor.
An umbilical cord connects our legislators and governor to Big Oil. That cord may feed the politicians, but Louisiana continues to rank poorly in educational, environmental and economic well-being.
Facing a $1.6 billion deficit next year, the Legislature taxed its weakest constituents and largely left the companies untouched. College students and parents face higher tuition, motorists more gas taxes and smokers higher tobacco taxes.
Working-class and elderly Louisiana residents will endure cutbacks in health care. State employees will see their paychecks and benefits squeezed.
This ugly picture plays out as Louisiana approaches the 100th anniversary of its Oil and Gas Severance Tax. This antique from 1921 taxes in-state production but ignores the enormous quantities of oil and gas brought to Louisiana for processing.
See how the obsolete Severance Tax works at the giant ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge: The plant processes 98 percent foreign oil and 2 percent Louisiana oil, and we tax the 2 percent.
A constitutional amendment by Sen. Ben Nevers, of Bogalusa, would let voters modernize Louisiana oil and gas taxes. It proposes a tax on hydrocarbon “processing” to support education, health care, state employee and teacher retirement, and highways.
The bill has yet to receive a hearing.
As a senator, I offered a tax on hydrocarbon processing at least 10 times, but the Legislature refused to put the issue before voters.
Industry lobbyists must kill the processing tax in the Legislature because they know the voters would approve it. Louisiana floats on a sea of foreign oil. We have thousands of miles of pipeline, refineries no other states want, the Mississippi River to transport tankers and politicians friendly to Big Oil.
Did I mention the enormous oil fields off our coast?
Importing and processing oil is part of our culture. We have done it for decades. As a result, we have tendencies similar to “petro-states” such as Venezuela and Nigeria. The companies dominate our politics. We defend them when they pollute our waters or damage our coast. We cut their taxes.
The ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge has received $119 million in subsidies since 2011.
The Legislature stooped to a new low last year when it voted to kill the lawsuit blaming Big Oil for eroding our coastline, despite damage shown by the industry’s own studies.
Voters who want their state back should ask the candidates for governor and Legislature: Who will you represent? How will you solve our fiscal problems? Will you tax foreign oil and cut taxes on people?
Will you cut the umbilical cord and give us back our independence?
public service commissioner