With a brown cover and less-than-gripping title, “Exploring Long-Term Solutions for Louisiana’s Tax System” is perhaps not destined for the best-seller lists.
But it is an important book from the LSU Press, describing with strong documentation and supporting arguments the problems with Louisiana’s existing tax code.
And for Gov. John Bel Edwards and the members of the Legislature, it is implicitly an indictment of Louisiana’s political system in the last four years.
The authors — including Jim Richardson, the LSU professor and longtime member of the state’s revenue estimating committee — outline the problems with the various ways that Louisiana levies taxes at the state and local level.
Reading it is frustrating for those of us who have long argued for a rewrite of the anarchy that is Louisiana’s overall approach to taxation, far out of step with practices in most other states. But if you can’t quite get through all the charts and graphs, one can skip to the chapter at the end that reproduces the 2017 report of a panel of experts assigned to show how the system could be improved.
That report was the basis for bills introduced by both Republicans and Democrats that succumbed to political stasis and partisan infighting.
Much of that legislation was supported by the governor. And with regularity, the bills were either defeated in the House — where the Republican leaders welcomed chances to kill measures blessed by Edwards, a Democrat — but also on rare occasions when a few of the proposals ran the House gauntlet and made it to the Senate.
Some of that was pure self-preservation at work, as members are the target of outside pressure groups on the conservative side. If you vote to raise revenues, you’re attacked as a liberal spender, even if the bill replaces a tax that is repealed by another measure. Sometimes, political missteps by advocates, including the governor and the business community, have hurt the reform cause.
The governor is now seeking reelection, bragging that the state has a stable budget. True, though he restated recently at the annual meeting of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana that raising the sales taxes was not his preferred method to save the budget from a tailspin.
Still, to avoid budget crises in an election year, the sales tax increase runs through a potential second term for Edwards. The sales tax bill kicked the can down the road, again.
The can will still be in the road waiting for a state leadership that ought to read the volume on tax reform — or even the shorter recommendations of the Legislature’s own panel of experts — and finally get us a tax system for the 21st century.