Jindal says tax plan still being prepared

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG --  In this March 12, 2012, photo, Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses a joint session of the Louisiana Legislature.
Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- In this March 12, 2012, photo, Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses a joint session of the Louisiana Legislature.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday everything is on the table as he tries to develop a plan that eliminates personal and corporate income taxes in a “revenue neutral” way.

“We don’t have a proposal yet,” Jindal said.

Jindal met briefly with local reporters following an event at the Governor’s Mansion honoring couples who had been married in excess of 70 years.

He fielded a half-dozen questions in his first availability to State Capitol reporters in about four months.

Questions ranged from tax plan development to Medicaid expansion — he continues to oppose it — and his poor showing in a national public opinion poll.

Jindal said he continues to meet with legislators and others to get their ideas before settling on a bill he will ask a legislator to submit for consideration in the legislative session, which begins April 8.

“It’s way too early to make decisions on what’s in and out of the plan,” he said.

Jindal said he is looking to develop a “flatter and simpler” tax system.

He said any proposal will provide subsidies to offset any negative impact on “vulnerable” populations.

Jindal repeated his general goals when asked whether the redistribution of taxes would result in a tax increase on military and state retirees as well as those drawing Social Security who don’t pay income tax currently or whether removing exemptions on severance taxes was under consideration.

A proposal to eliminate exemptions allowed to the severance tax, which is levied mostly on oil and gas producers, was listed on a handout Jindal shares with legislators at meetings in the Governor’s Mansion. He asks legislators to return the memos after the meetings.

The proposals also include an increase in the tax by about $1 on a pack of cigarettes, and increasing the state sales tax from 4 cents per dollar spent to nearly 6 cents. Current sales tax exemptions on food, drugs and utilities would continue, according to the handouts.

“Everything is on the table,” Jindal said, including the severance tax exemption and other credits. “That’s the way it should be.”

Louisiana has the fourth-lowest taxes in the U.S. when state and local taxes are combined, Jindal said. But the state is ranked as having the 32nd worse tax code, he said. “That makes no sense,” Jindal said.

He said the current tax code is “complicated and filled with exemptions, filled with loopholes ... Our goal is to simplify that.”

Jindal said the administration is looking at different ways to protect “vulnerable populations.” He said there could be something like an earned income tax credit or tax rebates.

The goal is to come up with a plan that insures that people in the low- to middle-income brackets “are not made worse off as a result of tax reform,” he said.

Jindal said he hopes to meet with President Barack Obama in the next couple of weeks.

Jindal said he has not changed his mind about Louisiana expanding Medicaid to cover some 400,000 uninsured residents even as other Republican governors have changed course.

He said he favors bringing health care access to more people but not through the “outdated” Medicaid program.

Jindal said the changes could be made to improve the current system, including in such areas as benefit design, eligibility determination, cost-sharing, premium assistance and using the private insurance model. He said something good could be developed if “the administration works with us.”

Asked about a poll released Tuesday showing his favorable job rating at 37 percent, Jindal said he’s never worried about voter surveys.

“The only poll I care about is the BCS poll and I’m glad to see the Tigers are ranked again high in the preseason,” Jindal said, referring to early football program rankings of the Bowl Championship Series.

“What we are focusing on is the future of Louisiana,” Jindal said.