The good news is that a tax-cut bill that would return the state budget to the chaos of the Bobby Jindal years is not likely to pass.
The bad news is that it is being considered at all, so soon after schools, colleges and state institutions were savaged by reckless tax cuts, corporate tax breaks and unsound budgeting under the former governor.
Have Republican leaders in the state House learned so little from those follies, especially since Jindal’s backing came from some of those same GOP members?
In hard-fought battles since January 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature have righted the pirogue since the Jindal years. Now, the head of the House Republican caucus has recently sought to roll back the part of the state sales tax that lawmakers implemented in a deal to shore up the state’s budget last year.
The bill by state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would begin shrinking the 0.45% sales tax hike in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, repealing it by 2023.
Incredibly, in the House Ways and Means Committee, the Harris bill was waved through. Several Republican members characterized the state’s recent budget surpluses as proof the state is overtaxing its people.
“We might be extracting too much money out of the taxpayer’s pocket because we’re continually ending up with surpluses and we continually raised taxes and fees over the past two years,” Harris said.
This is a misinterpretation of the surpluses, which are still relatively small — $300 million in the context of a state general fund that is about $10 billion a year. Every budget is based on a forecast that can fall short as well as come in higher. Better a small surplus than Jindal-Harris deficits and one-time money used to prop up the operating budget.
A surplus is also money that the state spends pretty wisely. According to the Louisiana Constitution, a surplus can be used only for specific purposes, such as adding to a state savings account, paying down retirement debts, coastal projects and other one-time needs that Harris and his friends in the Legislature have signally failed to address.
The Harris bill is transparently an election-year jab at Edwards. We think opposing it makes the governor look good, as the adult in the State Capitol.
We don’t like sales taxes either, but the Legislature refused again and again to consider wiser long-term tax reforms. Harris flatly rejected income tax reforms recommended by experts who have studied the system for years. Cutting taxes without a plan is legislative nuttiness.
If House members go on record backing such an irresponsible bill as Harris proposed, we urge the Senate to reject it, and if not, Edwards should veto it.