Beam: Tax reform plan has loose ends

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to

eliminate personal and corporate state income taxes got its first

detailed exposure last week.

However, there are still more questions than answers at this stage

of the process. Once legislation is written and debated,

we should have a clearer understanding of how his plan will impact

individual and joint income taxpayers.

Meanwhile, some of his goals are

clear-cut. As part of his effort to replace $3.6 billion in lost

revenues, Jindal wants to

raise the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5.88 percent. He could

have made life much simpler for everyone affected if he

had just gone to 6 percent for the sake of easier bookkeeping. Add

local sales taxes to the mix, and the total sales tax approaches

11 percent, the highest in the country.

The additional 1.88 percent state sales tax on all taxable items is estimated to bring in $1.88 billion. Applying the existing

4 percent state sales tax to some services would total $961 million.

The Jindal public relations machinery

went into overdrive following the governor’s explanation of his tax

overhaul program.

We were reminded, for example, that food, prescription drugs and

residential utilities are constitutionally exempt from the

state sales tax. The governor’s press secretary said that means

the higher rate isn’t really 5.88 percent, but somewhere between

3.12 and 4.34 percent. The higher rate applies to higher-income

earners.

Critics of Jindal’s plan are quick to

point out that higher sales taxes hit low-income wage earners and

retirees hard. Most

don’t pay income taxes. The governor said those taxpayers will be

protected with special rebate programs. One would be the

Family Assistance Rebate Program, and the other the Retirees

Benefit Program. How the rebates would work is still to be ironed

out, but they would probably be paid four times a year.

Aside from higher sales taxes, the

other major concern revolves around nearly 40 new services that would be

subject to the

5.88 percent state sales taxes. News reports talk about the taxes

being charged on movie tickets, haircuts, hairdressing,

dog grooming services, tanning salons, landscaping services,

investment counseling, travel, accounting and computer services,

cable and other subscription services, performing arts and museum,

zoo and recreational services.

Some examples: An individual getting a

$13 haircut, would pay an additional 76 cents in state sales tax. A $7

theater ticket

would cost an additional 41 cents. Homeowners paying $100 a month

for cable TV and Internet service would have to add $5.88

to the bill. Local sales taxes wouldn’t apply to any of the new

services being taxed.

Excluded from the higher sales tax are health care services, education, construction, real estate and financial services and

attorneys.

Smokers won’t be happy, but others

don’t seem to have much of a problem with increasing the cigarette tax

from 36 cents to

$1.41 per pack, which is the rate charged in Texas. The increase

would raise $370 million. Reducing some tax exemptions and

eliminating others would raise an additional $385 million.

Jindal and his spokesmen said the goal

is to produce a revenue-neutral tax package. In other words, they want

to replace dollars

the state will lose with an equal amount of new tax dollars. The

governor said he also wants to simplify what is considered

an outdated, complex state tax system.

State Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, spoke for many others when he addressed that issue.

“It doesn’t sound like we’re simplifying the tax code; it sounds like we’re making it more complicated,” Kostelka said.

Legislators last week wanted to know

what would happen if projected revenues from higher sales taxes don’t

materialize. Tim

Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue

and point man on the tax reform package, said adjustments

could be made along the way. Lawmakers said a change in tax rates

is their responsibility, but there was no clear answer about

how those adjustments would be made.

Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, asked

how the state would ensure that the new taxes levied on some 40 services

were collected.

Jason DeCuir, assistant secretary in the Department of Revenue,

said the department has access to citizens’ federal tax information

that would assist collection efforts.

Some legislators said the state has a good record in attracting industry to the state, including over $40 billion in industrial

expansion announced for Southwest Louisiana. They asked why any changes are necessary.

Barfield said, “Good is the enemy of great.” He added that the state has gone from bad to pretty good where economic growth

is concerned, and is now moving to great.

The Jindal administration said the tax

reform effort will result in tax decreases for every resident. It said

the reductions

range from $25 for joint income tax filers making less than

$20,000 annually to $4,544 for couples making $100,000 or more.

The governor and his team said they are

confident they have most of the right answers, but they also said that

about last

year’s education and reform efforts that ended up in court. Anyway

you size it up, this tax reform plan comes across as an

extremely complicated puzzle. We can only hope legislators won’t

fall in line until they get all the answers the folks back

home want and need.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com