Dennis Persica column for Jan. 31, 2013

Tourists: No time like present to buy things

Welcome, visitors, to New Orleans, the home of Super Bowl XLVII.

I won’t bore you with an introduction to the city. You’ve probably read all the guidebooks before coming, and I’m sure that watching “Tremé” has helped fill in some of the gaps.

So, let me give you some practical advice for your stay here: Buy. Buy. Buy.

The next time you’re in New Orleans, things may cost a lot more, and it won’t be because of inflation. It’ll be because of the sales tax going up.

Yup, it looks like our Gov. Bobby Jindal likes to tax people. At least some people. If corporations are people, those are the kinds of people our governor doesn’t want to tax.

Jindal — who, odds are, probably was in your home state on a speaking tour recently — wants to eliminate all state income taxes, including those on corporations.

However, to make up for the lost revenue, Jindal intends to increase the state sales tax. That means the cost of visiting New Orleans could be higher next time you’re here. The alcohol you drink and the souvenirs you buy here (you know you’ve had your eye on that refrigerator magnet of a drunk leaning against a French Quarter streetlight) will cost more. The money you pay lap dancers shouldn’t be affected by this, nor should anything you might lose to a stranger who wants to wager on where you got your shoes.

The governor’s plan hasn’t taken a final form yet, but the Public Affairs Research Council says it “runs the risk of destabilizing the state’s revenue base,” perhaps resulting in future tax increases to correct the resulting mess.

PAR also said retired state employees, including teachers, would especially feel the impact of higher sales taxes, since their retirement benefits are exempt from state income tax anyway.

State employees and public schoolteachers haven’t been getting much love around the country lately, so there may be a lot of people who won’t care about that side effect .

Social Security recipients and retired State Police and military personnel also are among those whose retirement income is exempt from state income tax, so shifting to a higher sales tax will affect them.

Another unforeseen consequence: Remember all those people who have been putting money into Individual Retirement Accounts and 401(k) plans, trying to avoid paying income taxes up front and hoping that by the time they take the money out they might be in a lower tax bracket?

Surprise! Though they may not have to face state income taxes when they start withdrawing money from those accounts, they could be facing a significantly higher sales tax burden that they may not have accounted for.

You already know from the guidebooks that New Orleans has a rich French heritage. You see that in our street names: Lafayette, Burgundy, Iberville, Bienville, Chartres. You’ve probably also noticed we love to make things that aren’t French sound French, such “geaux” for “go.”

You might even find a “bistreaux” or two, because, you know, the French word “bistro” just doesn’t look French enough.

If this tax plan goes through, shifting the burden of paying for state government from corporations and high-income earners to those on the other end of the economic spectrum, you might find us appropriating another French phrase to describe ourselves the next time you’re in town.

We’ll be “Les Misérables.”

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.