Candidates for the Louisiana Legislature who want to help run this state for the next four years haven’t given voters much red meat during what has so far been a lackluster campaign.
The same can be said about the three major candidates for governor. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has talked about his record, which is a good one, but we need more. And we definitely need to hear more from Republican candidates — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and businessman Eddie Rispone of Baton Rouge — other than how much they agree with the policies of President Trump.
It’s long past time for Louisiana to inch its way up from the bottom of so many nationwide polls and surveys. Three nonpartisan organizations know how to begin doing that with what they call a RESET of the state’s priorities.
The Committee of 100 for Economic Development, the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and their thousands of members believe special attention needs to be paid to state finances, education, transportation infrastructure and criminal justice/public safety.
Here are some questions candidates should be answering:
Do you support budget and tax reform?
Would you vote to raise more revenue for roads, bridges and other infrastructure?
Where can the state get the $86 million it needs annually for early childhood education?
Where would you make budget cuts?
Are you going to oppose all tax proposals?
Budget and tax reform is the most urgent need, but it’s a subject that has been postponed by legislative leaders time and time again for three years. Two of the best roadmaps for getting that reform accomplished were completed in 2015.
“Louisiana Tax Study, 2015” was done by economists Dr. Jim Richardson of LSU and Drs. Steven Sheffrin and James Alm, both of Tulane University. Search for Tax Study, 2015, at www.revenue.louisiana.gov
“Louisiana Fiscal Reform: A Framework for the Future” was produced by Tax Foundation, considered a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank. That study can be found at https://taxfoundation.org/louisiana-fiscal-reform/
Both studies offer similar solutions for Louisiana’s financial problems.
Expanding the sales tax base to include additional personal services, for example, and setting a time limit on tax exemptions would make it possible to lower the state sales tax. When you add in local sales taxes, the combined tax rate is much too high.
Louisiana also needs to move towards a joint state and local authority to collect all of the sales taxes. That is an ongoing tough sell, but the idea should definitely be pursued.
The state needs to lower its personal and corporate income taxes by not allowing so many income tax deductions. It also needs to place a limit on tax credits. Both studies agree Louisiana just has too many tax exemptions, deductions and credits.
In fiscal year 2016-17, potential tax collections totaled $15.7 billion, according to the state Department of Revenue. However, $6.9 billion in estimated exemptions reduced actual collections to nearly $8.8 billion. Individual and corporate federal income tax deductions cost the state $1 billion. Sales tax exemptions totaled $2.4 billion.
The three state economists in their study said the tax structure should be broad based with low tax rates. It should also provide sufficient revenues, be predictable and stable, promote competiveness and be fair and simple. Louisiana doesn’t measure up at the moment.
Tax Foundation didn’t sit in Washington and try to tell the state what to do. Its staffers met with stakeholders from all walks of Louisiana life. They included small business owners, local government officials, trade associations, industry representatives, state officials across the political spectrum and ordinary taxpayers.
The organization said the state’s taxes suffer from narrow bases. It adds that some of that is because of the partial repeal of the Stelly Plan in 2008. It adds that action has been magnified by the generous use of tax incentive programs, increasing internet sales and the failure of the sales tax to apply to services, “which are a large and growing share of the American economy.”
Tax Foundation said, “If the most robust of these tax reform recommendations were implemented, Louisiana’s ranking in the State Business Climate Index would move to 10th best in the nation.” It is a long way from that at the moment.
Legislators promised to tackle most of these fiscal reform recommendations in 2017, but refused to do it. Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature and some of their own party members like Reps. Barry Ivey, R-Central, and Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, came up with excellent tax reform plans that barely saw the light of day.
We need to tell the candidates who want to be our legislators for the next four years we want a commitment from them about whether they are ready to begin the tax and budget reform effort designed to improve the lives of all our citizens.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.