Beam: Cheap advice could be costly

By By Jim Beam / American Press

It’s amazing how some national

organizations are so quick to offer advice to Louisiana’s political

leaders. Unfortunately,

they rush to judgment because they are either unaware or don’t

really care about the internal problems facing the state. We

have health care issues, budget shortages and a higher education

system on the financial ropes.

Americans for Tax Reform, the group

that Grover Norquist made famous with his “no-tax” pledge, praised Gov.

Rick Perry of

Texas in a Tuesday news release while chastising Louisiana

lawmakers for abandoning repeal of the state’s individual income

tax.

“Gov. Perry moves to make Texas more tax friendly,” ATR said, adding, “Meanwhile legislators in Baton Rouge are thwarting

Gov. (Bobby) Jindal’s attempts to do the same.”

The National Taxpayers Union a day earlier wrote an open letter to members of the state House Ways and Means Committee, urging

them to support legislation lowering or repealing income taxes.

“... Reducing — or completely eliminating — income taxes would make Louisiana a better place to start a business and would

allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money...,” NTU said.

If those remarks sound familiar, it’s because Gov. Jindal has been saying almost the exact same thing for months now in his

unrelenting pursuit to repeal state income taxes.

In an earlier column, we talked about

the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence on the national

political scene.

It was formed in 1973 by conservative activists in order to take

conservative policies to state and local levels. It has written

some 800 model bills that can be used by governors and legislators

anywhere, and conservative political leaders in a number

of states have been quick to take advantage of the service.

National organizations do offer some

helpful advice, but they seldom dig deep enough to determine whether

what they recommend

is workable in different situations. The same isn’t true for

in-state groups that are thoroughly familiar with their state’s

internal affairs.

Louisiana is fortunate to have a number

of organizations attuned to the state’s needs, and they are doing what

AFR, NTU and

ALEC can’t or won’t. Two of the most credible are the Public

Affairs Research Council and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Both are nonprofit, non-partisan, statewide groups. PAR was

founded in 1950, and CABL in 1962.

PAR has released a detailed report

outlining key tax issues facing the state. It said Gov. Jindal’s plan to

repeal income

taxes could have resulted in more than $4 billion in lost revenues

and other costs. PAR said talk about not having an immediate

plan to replace those revenues “lacks courage and real

leadership.”

“... It is doubtful that the (Jindal) plan would have provided a simpler, fairer or more evenly applied tax system, which

are primary goals of a good tax policy,” PAR said.

The PAR report should be a must-read for every Louisiana legislator and others involved with the state’s tax policy. It is

available online at www.parlouisiana.com.

CABL makes equally convincing arguments that repeal of income taxes is too serious an issue to be rushed for political reasons.

The council lists five things to think about before rushing to repeal the state income tax.

Louisiana is already a low-tax state,

it said. The state has already cut spending by $2 billion since 2009.

Future budgets

don’t look good because of rising Medicaid and retirement costs.

There are “no more rocks to look under to find more dollars.”

And CABL adds that funding for higher education has turned upside

down.

Then, there was this comment: “If voters are dying to continue cutting state support to critical areas of state government

in exchange for the elimination of income taxes, they seem to be keeping it a secret.”

State legislators are closer to tax

issues than any of those national organizations pushing income tax

repeal, and they say

this isn’t the right time. Louisiana House Republicans, who

represent a majority in their chamber, have supported Rep. Joel

Robideaux, R-Lafayette, chairman of the House Ways and Means

Committee. He asked sponsors of income tax repeal legislation

to indefinitely defer their bills, and they agreed.

Robideaux also got support from Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. He agreed with others that it would be

fiscally irresponsible to eliminate the income tax without replacing the revenue.

Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, and

chairman of the GOP House delegation, said, “While repeal of the income

tax is a significant

Republican goal, most of our members were concerned about how to

pay for the billions of dollars in lost revenue.”

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and leader of the House Democratic Caucus, said, “There’s a lot of support here for eliminating

the income tax. But how do you pay for it?”

Edwards told The Lens of New Orleans a study commission could be created to study over the next two years how to eliminate

the income tax. PAR agreed, saying there needs to be a realistic approach to reforming the state’s tax system.

CABL said, “... Incremental progress is slower and more deliberate, but it’s still progress.”

Our advice to those outside organizations trying to tell the state what to do about its taxes would be, “Thanks, but no thanks.

The governor may like your advice, but our legislators have a better handle at this time on what’s best for Louisiana.”

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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