By Robert Mann
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bewildering tax schemes to salvage what’s left of higher education and health care may fail for two simple reasons: They are tax increases that the state’s business community strongly opposes, and they are built on a foundation of ridiculous semantic deceptions.
I’m not against raising taxes to support higher education and health care. I only wish Jindal and his allies had the courage to call a tax a tax. The convoluted way they are seeking new revenue undermines their efforts to balance the budget without devastating cuts.
None of their silly machinations would be necessary if Jindal hadn’t surrendered the state to Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). Jindal swore an oath to the state’s Constitution, but that’s far less important to him than the solemn anti-tax-increase pledge he made to ATR.
By pledging allegiance to Norquist, he betrayed his constituents and outsourced his judgment on revenue policy to a Washington resident who has no stake in Louisiana’s future. After bringing the state to the brink of financial ruin, Jindal and staff recently prostrated before Norquist. They invited the great revenue savant to opine on their plans to find enough new revenue to close a $1.6 billion shortfall.
“The governor takes his pledge to not raise taxes seriously,” Jindal’s spokesman Mike Reed said. “That is why the administration regularly discusses with ATR proposals that impact the tax code to make sure it does not violate the governor’s pledge to not raise taxes.”
Your eyes do not deceive you. Jindal “regularly” allows Norquist to decide what legislation he can and cannot offer to the Legislature.
In particular, Jindal proposes to narrow the budget shortfall by eliminating the state’s partial refund of the inventory tax that local governments levy on businesses. Under current law, the state rebates the inventory tax to businesses after it subtracts other state taxes they owe. It’s a tax offset for business and a costly annual $450 million state subsidy for local governments.
Jindal wants to revoke those rebates, which means local governments would continue pocketing the revenue from businesses. Along with the elimination of about a dozen other tax credits, this would save the state $526 million. Jindal would apply $376 million of that to higher education and the remaining $150 million to health care.
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