Bobby Jindal’s tax plan: Does he want a bill or just an issue?

By Robert Mann

I’ve always suspected that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s purpose in proposing his now-“parked” tax plan was not merely to see it enacted into law.LA income tax form

Instead, he appeared to mostly want an issue — a shiny bauble with which to dazzle the likes of Grover Norquist and Republican primary and caucus voters in places like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

From the very beginning — when Jindal & Co. first presented their half-baked idea to abolish the income tax — until Monday, when he told legislators he would not force them to consider his far-more-developed plan, the whole drama appeared to be a scheme for generating talking points for Jindal, not jobs for Louisiana.

My evidence?

Until this year, Jindal and his aides had never talked about their supposed belief that Louisiana’s relatively low income tax is a job-destroying behemoth.

Suddenly, almost overnight, they discover that Louisiana has an awful tax system? I know Jindal has been out of the state for much of his first term, but if this were such a huge problem, wouldn’t someone have mentioned it to him before?

In fact, in 2011, when a legislator proposed abolishing the state’s income tax, Jindal publicly dismissed it as an unserious proposal.

Jindal and his aides clearly had little idea from the beginning what they hoped to accomplish at the end.

Their plan evolved almost daily in response to charges by its critics. To call the initial plan half-baked would require one to believe there actually was a plan. Indeed, administration officials eventually told us that they had no plan for the first month or so of the debate. All they had was a great idea to abolish the income tax.

They clearly had devised no coherent communications strategy. Jindal and his aides rarely seemed to be speaking with one voice about the plan. Did they not have periodic strategy and communications sessions before and during the debate? Was there not a formal communications plan for the scheme?

Is that how a truly serious effort at tax reform would be launched and sold by someone planning a presidential campaign?

It’s fairly obvious that Jindal and his aides conducted no public opinion research on the issue. They had no idea how unpopular his idea would be.

Sure, you might say, no one needs to run a poll to determine whether Louisiana voters like paying income taxes. That’s correct. But, as it turned out, that was never really the issue. Jindal carelessly tossed out an idea with no clue how he might sell it. He seemed to have not an inkling how unpopular increasing sales taxes would become. He also seemed not to understand the depths of his own unpopularity, which drastically limited his ability to sell a tax plan – even a well-considered one – to the public.

If you had long dreamed of passing something this big, wouldn’t you spend a little time testing the idea in forums around Louisiana? If you really wanted a bill enacted, wouldn’t you invest a bit of effort in talking to legislators about it? Wouldn’t you invite in PAR, CABL and LABI to discuss the idea and collect their thoughts? Maybe an editorial board meeting at The Advocate is a bridge too far, but could it hurt to pitch your ideas – early — to the reporters and editors at a few Louisiana newspapers?

The most conclusive piece of evidence is Jindal’s current stance on the income tax.

On Thursday, Jindal told reporters that he would accept a repeal of the income tax, even if legislators did not vote to replace it with anything.

“We’re not putting up any barriers to these bills. Our point is we want to get rid of the income tax. We’re open to talking with any legislator that’s interested in doing that and working with any legislator that’s interested in doing that and any outside group that’s interested in getting that done.”

Gannett News Service described Jindal’s stance this way:

Although he “parked” his own plan to eliminate income taxes, Gov. Bobby Jindal said repealing at least the individual income tax is his “most important goal” for this legislative session.

And if legislators want to find a way to make up the lost revenue, that’s fine. But it’s not a requirement, he said.

Isn’t that just another way of suggesting Louisiana should embark on a suicide mission?

As the Times-Picayune reported,

An analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office released Thursday shows that one of the tax phase-out proposals, House Bill 271 by Rep. Hunter Greene, would result in the state forgoing about $23.7 billion over the 10 years it would take to eliminate the tax. That plan, which would start decreasing rates on Jan. 1, would result in a $78 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

It could be that legislators might, indeed, be so reckless that a majority of their number would vote to wipe out the state’s tax base with no idea how to replace it. There are, indeed, legislators who appear to care little about funding health care, schools, higher education, public safety and roads and bridges.

And no one ever went broke underestimating the wisdom of the Louisiana Legislature. But even I have difficultly imagining that this group of leaders would vote to drive the state off a cliff (after all, where would their per diem come from?).

I believe Jindal knows that, ultimately, the Legislature won’t agree on a bill to abolish the income tax.

And that may be what he’s expected all along.

He didn’t need a plan; he just needed an idea – a shiny bauble — that he could drop into speeches and that his supporters and friends around the country could use as talking points.

If lightning struck, and a bill passed, then great for him. But if the Legislature failed to abolish income taxes, he still has the issue.

He can still run off to New Hampshire and Iowa and breathlessly tell GOP audiences how he bravely stood up to the tax-and-spend Democrats who lied about his plan and then wouldn’t give his ideas a proper hearing.

Perhaps the best proof of my supposition will be in Jindal’s remarks at a GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire next month. Want to bet he doesn’t talk about his income tax proposals to that audience?

Now, here’s one flaw in my theory: Jindal’s mishandling of this whole sorry episode hasn’t burnished Jindal’s standing in Louisiana or nationally. He looks very weak and clueless. Legislators, many of them already disgruntled, now fear and respect him even less.

No one who really wanted to launch a presidential campaign would purposely flop on a national stage as Jindal did on Monday. Jindal clearly could now be championing his tax crusade from a stronger position had he actually devised and vetted a serious, properly vetted plan instead of tossing out a half-baked idea.

But the evidence still seems to point in the direction of my original suspicion – Jindal mostly wanted an issue, not a bill. He wanted a cause as much as he desired results.

His shocking statement on Thursday – please abolish the income tax and don’t worry about replacing it with anything – clearly attests to that.

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13 Responses to Bobby Jindal’s tax plan: Does he want a bill or just an issue?

  1. Tom Aswell says:

    Bob, in the yellow highlighted section below, you may wish to change that to “as an unserious…” instead of “as a unserious….”

    Tom

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  2. Jacky Wells says:

    ❤ THIS POST ON JINDAL…BUT NO ❤ FOR JINDAL AND HIS BUDGETS CUTS AND TAX REFORM 😦

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  3. Stephen Winham says:

    Bob, you and I are clearly of like mind on this. My biggest fear is the legislature will pass and the governor will sign a bill phasing out income taxes beginning late this gubernatorial term, or a little earlier, on the same premise they seem to have done everything else for the last several years: Things will get better for reasons not currently known or even contemplated so there’s no need to plug the ostensible hole because it may be as fictitious as our other assumptions. We’ll be gone anyhow, and even if we aren’t the public will have lost the connection to what we have done by the time this kicks in. In other words, let’s continue be irresponsible while creating the illusion we are helping the taxpayers and not hurting anybody or anything.

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  4. Margherita McWilliams says:

    I don’t know, this guy at Nat’l Review Online (from Americans for Tax Reform) says the move to abolish the income tax is still alive and well: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/345271/jindal-s-income-tax-repeal-patrick-m-gleason

    And, didn’t I read that the whole issue is one borrowed from ALEC in the first place, as part of their model legislation?

    What’s scary is the theory some of these guys have floated that we can vote this year to abolish the income tax, and wait and see what kind of money we need to raise as we go along. That only leaves them open to just cutting anything and everything in the way of coming up with a revenue source!

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    • Robert Mann says:

      It’s a cynical game they are playing. I can’t bring myself to believe they would play chicken with the state budget in this way. I still believe Jindal doesn’t think the legislature will really abolish the income tax. But never underestimate the willingness of the legislature to do something dumb.

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    • Stephen Winham says:

      What you refer to as scary is, as I said earlier, my greatest fear and I fully expect it to happen unless enough people raise enough hell. I believe the governor is already knowingly submitting and signing budgets intended to result in mid-year cuts over which he has major control and/or which work kind of like the federal sequester, depending on how the appropriations bills are worded. A phased in income tax elimination would make that even easier if it started early and it would leave his successor holding the entire bag if it started late enough. In this morning’s ADVOCATE, Chuck Kleckley is quoted suggesting a phase-in that starts in 2016. Think about what that would mean. The legislature can also play around with some ostensibly balancing bills the whole session without passing any of them, or enough of them to make up the difference. Chicken is a mild, or perhaps incomplete, word for what’s going on here.

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  5. tls0 says:

    “We’ll be gone anyhow”…dontcha just love the double-edged sword of term limits? Lame duck gumbo, anybody? Please pass the rice and hot sauce, but don’t bother passing the taxes needed to fix the roads or fund the schools.
    Thanks for posting video proof that Jindal was right about something in 2011. Not substantial enough to be an empty suit, he’s just a windbreaker passing.

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  6. Toldyouso says:

    I too suspected that the tax plan was never meant to come to fruition, but my theory was that it was a ruse to divert attention from the budget woes that reflect his policy failures.

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  7. anonymous says:

    you are right. we continue to be held hostage by jindal’s national ambitions.and he has done a good job of slavishly carrying water for the wealthy who would bankroll him as well as not alienating the religous right.This sales tax proposal never made sense, but now he can let the legiclature pass come monstrosity while he talks about how he ‘listened to the people’ and was open to other ways of doing things even if it ‘ wasn’t the way (he) would have done it’.
    heaven help whoever is governor after this guy

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  8. earthmother says:

    It’s clear that Jindal in incapable of governing the state and has no interest in doing so. His travels while he is on the state payrol, including his upcoming jaunt to New Hampshire to campaign for himself, do not constitute conduct of state business, and therefore do constitute public payroll fraud, which is a felony in the state of Louisiana. Privatization = profiteering…shady contracts…the list is endless. When are we going to start holding this self-absorbed sociopathic ALEC-slave accountable for his actions, some of which are actually criminal?

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  9. john mikell says:

    Bob, as usual you are spot on…except you might be a little hard on yourself. I don’t believe there is “one flaw in your theory.” He certainly wanted an issue, and what’s better than cutting taxes? The fact that he bungled his scheme doesn’t mean to me that he did not really want to eliminate income taxes. It simply means he’s a bungler.
    From his response to the 2009 State of the Union, to vouchers, to ethics reform, to privatizing health care and state employee insurance, to education reform; what hasn’t he bungled? An incompetent ideologue can really bungle things up.

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