Legislators given two agendas

LOUISIANA LEGISLATORS — A new member of the Louisiana House wants to do away with the state income tax and have lower taxes and smaller government. An activist has given state lawmakers a different agenda that requires additilonal government services.

Richard Nelson of Mandeville, one of a number of new Louisiana state representatives taking office Monday, said he wants to eliminate the income tax, create a competitive business environment and empower local communities. The state can do it, he said, by shifting toward smaller government and lower taxes.

We wish him luck. He will need it.

Melissa S. Flournoy, a board member of Louisiana Progress Baton Rouge, said many good government organizations and business leaders are seeking bipartisan solutions to Louisiana’s long-standing problems. She said it can be done even with a more conservative Republican Legislature and a moderate Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

We wish her luck as well.

Nelson and Flournoy, in letters to The Advocate newspaper, have expressed different views of what government should be doing. The best answer is probably somewhere in between their optimistic outlooks.

The personal income tax in Louisiana brings in roughly $3.5 billion annually. The corporate income tax produces some $400 million. How do you replace that much revenue?

Nelson said, “Property taxes are the best source to make up for income tax-funded state payments. Property taxes are superior to income taxes in that you can control the size of your tax bill by the size of your house, without discouraging work.

“Property tax bills also show exactly where each dollar goes, and rates can be customized to each locality. This shift would give citizens the freedom to set their own tax rates without having to beg for their own tax money from the state.”

Higher property taxes are a tough sell. Property taxes in this state are some of the lowest in the country, thanks to Huey Long’s property tax exemption. It’s the reason my combined parish and city property tax bill for 2019 was just $814.

Long also created local governments’ reliance on state aid. Legislators have talked for years about giving more tax control back to local governments, but the needle hasn’t moved an inch.

The state, for example, provides supplemental pay for local firemen, policemen and many other first responders. Against the advice of some, legislators decided to put that supplemental pay in the state constitution, and getting it changed is almost impossible.

Local governments also depend on the state to provide them with funds to build many public facilities in their areas through the capital outlay (construction) bill. Breaking that dependence won’t come easily.

Nelson said, “We must eliminate the income tax to compete with our neighbor states, especially income tax-free Texas.”

Texas and six other states do benefit from not having an income tax. However, one report said Texas has sales taxes in some jurisdictions as high as 8.25 percent and its property taxes are also high.

Nelson has to realize that getting local voters to raise their property taxes is a tall order. Taxes and tolls are pretty much taboo these days.

Flournoy is looking for change in other areas.

“During the (election) campaign, many candidates talked about Louisiana ranking 50th in so many lists,” she said. “Now is the time for new legislators to understand more about poverty and the challenges facing the working poor in Louisiana…. 2020 is the year to focus on improving the quality of life for working families and improving outcomes for children.”

Flournoy said many organizations have the answers legislators need. She mentioned the Council for a Better Louisiana, the Public Affairs Research Council, the Louisiana Budget Project, the United Ways, the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families and the Policy Institute for Children.

The state needs to fund early childhood education, she said, address access to health care for pregnant women and early support for new mothers and families and work out paid family leave.

“Let’s focus on how to solve problems and not start the year with acrimony and political posturing,” Flournoy said. “The people of Louisiana want our elected officials to work together to make their lives better.”

A quality education for every Louisiana youngster is the only true answer for Louisiana’s problems. It’s the only guaranteed ticket out of the poverty ranks. Public officials don’t have all the answers, either. Every citizen in this state has to understand that a good education is the way to make everyone’s lives better.

Edwards and the Republican Legislature did eventually come together in 2018 to solve the state’s budget shortfalls, but they were at odds on many other issues like Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for poor and low-income Americans. It will take a sea change in attitudes to get them to work together for the next four years.

Nelson and Flournoy have offered new legislators much to think about. Some of it may never happen, but that doesn’t mean the issues they talked about shouldn’t become the subjects of legislative debate.

As Nelson said, “In the next four years, Louisiana has the chance to make history rather than repeating it.”

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