Friday, April 01, 2016

Oh noes they put us on a list

The new package of taxes passed by the recent legislative session takes effect today. The Advocate marked the occasion with a front page headline broadcasting the opinion of a conservative think tank.
What happens when you rank last in something and you make it even worse?

Welcome to Louisiana’s sales tax system.

It ranked 50th among the 50 states, according to the Tax Foundation, a pro-business Washington, D.C.-based think tank whose tax and budget rankings are frequently cited by state legislators.

Louisiana ranked last before the state Legislature passed two measures during the just-completed special session that, everybody agrees, made the sales tax system even worse.

“They would rank us 70th if they could, maybe 80th,” said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, probably the Legislature’s most knowledgeable member on tax issues.
Well, you know, we're dealing with a slight budget problem here. And we had to do some things we didn't want to do last month just to catch up.  The plan is to make things less onerous by looking at more equitable solutions that weren't available given the short time frame to close the current year shortfall but.. aw who cares about context. Somebody made a list!

It doesn't even really matter that the list comes from an organization with a myopic "anti-tax" agenda.  Sure that gets mentioned but it doesn't show up until like three quarters of the way through.
It should be noted that the Tax Foundation’s rankings are hardly the last word on taxes. The group lists South Dakota and Alaska as having the second and third best overall “business tax climate,” but both states are floundering in a sea of red ink following the drop in oil prices.

With an increasingly complicated tax system — and needing to raise more money — Louisiana legislators created a task force to study the tax and budget system and issue a report on Sept. 1.

Legislators are increasingly saying they believe they can use the task force’s recommendations as a basis to carry out some sort of tax reform, including the sales tax system.

“By next year, we need to straighten this out,” Stokes said.
"Tax reform" seems to be a hobby horse at the Advocate lately. The other day, they published a guest column on the very same topic from the always eager to helpfully self-promote former governor Buddy Roemer.

Roemer writes about a "growth gap" between Louisiana and some of its neighboring states. He focuses intently on Texas and Florida each of which is a strange comparison for Louisiana to measure against but no matter.  What Buddy wants to say... well, imply, rather than say... is that the key difference between Louisiana and Texas is the relative "business friendliness" of the tax code. Roemer doesn't explain what he means by that. He only tells us that 25 years ago he tried to pass, "the most progressive, business-people friendly tax reform in America." 

Of course, he doesn't say what that is.  In 1989, Roemer attempted to pass a package of reforms that, essentially, would have shifted a significant portion of the tax burden from business onto individuals reducing the homestead exemption by $50,000.  Roemer and his fans among the Yuppie Left (yes, he still has them) likes to describe this as a "progressive" reform but, in reality, it was a shell game designed to fund a corporate welfare state on the backs of middle class taxpayers. 

The plan had to go to a statewide ballot where it failed because people don't like trickle-down systems where they pay for corporate tax breaks that magically lead to "growth" and then.... phase three is profit but not for most of us. This isn't why Roemer thinks the plan failed.  Instead he thinks the problem was he just couldn't get those darn black voters to listen to him.
I tried tax reform 25 years ago. That proposal failed in large part because of a failure to convince the black community. I got the overwhelming majority of the white vote but failed miserably among the black vote.
Buddy's patronizing false contrition is almost as off-putting as his overall condescension. It's difficult to pick out which is his worst trait. 

Buddy's spiritual successor in Louisiana politics is the equally patronizing, equally phony State Treasurer John N Kennedy.  Kennedy, like Roemer, is an opportunistic self-promoter. Like Roemer, he switched parties from Democrat to Republican mid-career not out of any sense of principle besides self-interest. The two even speak with the same high pitched nasally Southern Baptist type accent. 

As recently as 2013, Kennedy was calling for a statewide referendum on proposed tax code changes. This was easy for him to say since the legislation (and political baggage that came with it) under discussion at the time was Bobby Jindal's and not his. Graciously, Kennedy allowed that some parts of Jindal's plan might be acceptable to some people.
Kennedy said he spoke Monday to a business group in Alexandria and received “a million questions” about the proposed state tax code changes.

“Just about every taxpayer will look at it and say, ‘There’s parts I like. There’s parts I don’t like,’ ” Kennedy said. “So let people vote.”
Since that time, the US Senate candidate has tightened his stance a bit, proclaiming recently that Louisiana does not, in fact, have a revenue problem.  Of all the opinions expressed about the state budget these past few months, this is by far the most laughable.

Louisiana has a revenue problem. The state pulls in too much of it from its poorest citizens and gives away too much of it to the wealthiest businesses operating within its borders. The situation may even necessitate a new round of sweeping tax reforms to be put before the voters. We'll wait and see what the legislature comes up with first.  When we do tax reform, though, let's try and focus on a target besides just impressing the people who publish the Tax Foundation listicle, ok?

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