Money talk: State Rep. Les Farnum shares budgeting issues legislators dealing with in Baton Rouge

Published 3:10 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

State Representative Les Farnum plans to do his part to make good on campaign promises, no renewal of the 4.45 percent state sales tax, no reframing it as a “re-dedication” and no toll on the Interstate 10 bridge. But the pressure is on in Baton Rouge.

Farnum talked about that challenge, and how a flat tax across the board – just one idea being bounced around by legislators – might hurt the lowest income earners at the West Cal Chamber of Commerce Thursday lunch.

If the 4.45 percent state tax is not renewed or rededicated, the state will lose $400 to $450 billion in revenue, Farnum said. That’s a big chunk to contend with, but not the only scenario lawmakers are looking at. To get teachers to the Southern Average, which Farnum would like to see, a $2,000 pay raise has been proposed.

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“Since 2019, we have raised teacher’s pay at a cost of $3,000 per year (for each teacher). “That’s not much in the big scheme of things when you think about it, but the price tag for that increase, not the total for teacher’s salaries, but for that pay raise, was $300 million.”

He did the math. With the 4.45 peercent tax off the books and the teachers’ raise, that’s a $750 million shortfall.

“That’s something we’ve got to try to figure out how to fill,” Farnum said.

The average starting teacher salary for 2021-2022 was $41,770, according to online information for the National Education Association. The Step 1 Base Salary for a 182-day teacher in a Calcasieu Parish Public School is $46,671, and the average compensation for CPSB teachers, based on different variables, is $53,334, according to a CPSB spokesperson.

State income tax accounts for about 11 percent of the state’s operating budget. A few ideas for changing the tax structure are underway. In 2021, the process began for lowering personal income tax. Three tax brackets were established, the lowest rate went from 2 percent to 1.85 percent, the middle income earners went from paying 4 percent to 3.5 percent and the highest earners went from paying 6 percent to 4.25 percent.

“A .25 percent reduction in state taxes comes to about $120 million. $375 million is collected from”the poorest of the working people,” he said.

Farnum would rather this population — the lowest income earners — pay no tax than go from paying 1.85 percent to 4.5 percent, which is the percentage being proposed in one scenario for a flat tax across the board. He says the middle and higher income earners paying 4.5 percent is “not a bad option and one of the things we’re looking at.”