Our Views: Poor filers, rich checks

The cartoonist Rube Goldberg became famous for drawing nonsensically elaborate devices to perform simple tasks.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has outdone the master.

A huge criticism of Jindal’s tax plan is that repealing income taxes is mostly a benefit for the best-off taxpayers, and raising sales taxes has more impact on lower-income taxpayers than higher-income ones.

Even the administration’s own data, after considerable massaging, shows high-income taxpayers getting tax breaks of 200-to-1 or better over those in low-income brackets.

And that’s after the Rube Goldberg contraption that Jindal proposes to avoid criticism: Two programs are proposed to return money to the conspicuous losers in the raising of sales taxes.

The grandly named Family Assistance Rebate Program would provide low-income households rebates to give them a tax break.

While the overall Jindal program is, as so often, simply a copy of national conservatives’ tax proposals, there is a Louisiana-specific problem: The numerous state retirees do not pay income tax on their Louisiana pensions, and some other forms of retirement benefits are tax-exempt.

So another rebate program, for retiree benefits, will allow retirees of less than $60,000 adjusted gross income to get rebates.

The administration says it wants to transfer, through these new rebate programs, enough to ensure that everyone gets a tax break.

How to finance that? By the expanding of sales taxes, at a new higher rate, to business services that are today not subject to sales tax.

Unfortunately, one of Jindal’s talking points is that he wants tax simplification. Simplification for Wall Street, maybe, as corporate income and franchise taxes would be replaced with sales taxes. Those beneficiaries would have less paperwork.

And most of us would not have to file income tax returns.

But it is hardly simplification for the poor and the eligible retirees to file what are essentially income tax returns to get rebates. Nor is it simplification to create new state entitlement programs, with the administrative challenges of compliance.

The plan is so far pretty sketchily outlined. But if adopted, and giving Jindal’s figures the benefit despite our considerable doubts, the tax break for a tax filer with $20,000 in income would be $18. The estimate from Jindal’s Department of Revenue is that filers of $100,000 in income would see a benefit of more than $5,000.

This plan is, for the poor and for state retirees, not simplification.

Neither is it fairness.