Two groups of clergy, unbeknownst to each other, came to the State Capitol on Monday to express the same concerns about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to swap income taxes for sales taxes.
At issue is the governor’s plan to eliminate state income tax, raise state sales tax and tax more services. Both groups of ministers say raising sales taxes would harm low- and middle-income workers.
The first group arrived in the morning with a letter from 250 clergy across the state.
Dr. Jay Hogewood, pastor at Ingleside United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, expressed concern for how the governor’s tax plan would affect families with low to moderate incomes.
Raising sales taxes means people would pay more for goods and services, said the Rev. Lee T. Wesley, pastor of Community Bible Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Low- and middle-income people will need to spend a larger percentage of their incomes to buy essentials, he said.
Wesley and Hogewood were among a handful of clergy who delivered to the Governor’s Office a letter signed by 250 ministers from across the state.
The letter stated: “We believe that any proposed law that would increase the tax burden on low- and moderate-income families in order to decrease it for wealthy families must be judged an unjust law.”
Bishop Gregory Cooper Sr., of Morning Star Full Gospel Church in south Baton Rouge and Antioch — A Full Gospel Baptist Church in north Baton Rouge, said the ministers hoped to share with the House Ways and Means committee, which begins looking at the governor’s plan on Tuesday, the serious impact of the proposals on the needs of the majority of families in Louisiana.
Cooper said he feels comfortable in reaching out to the governor because Jindal told legislators his proposal is not etched in stone.
“I just don’t believe we’ve talked enough about it,” Cooper said.
A second, unaffiliated, faith-based group also came out against the governor’s tax plan with a rally on the Capitol steps Monday afternoon. Led by the Micah Project, an affiliate of the interfaith community-organizing group, clergy denounced the proposal as benefiting wealthy Louisiana taxpayers and corporations at the expense of the poor and middle class.
“We’re not talking about numbers on a page,” said Elder Jerry Price, of the Marine and Mount Moriah Ministries in Jefferson. “We’re talking about souls and people we love.”
Price said the statistics show that states with higher income taxes are safer, have better schools and better infrastructure. Consequently, those states have more jobs, higher personal income averages and less poverty, he said.
Thomas Bessix, pastor of the New Gideon Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said the group asked to meet Jindal or somebody with his staff, but nobody from the Governor’s Office responded.
Tim Barfield, who is Jindal’s point man on the tax revamp, defended the governor’s proposal later in the day.
“This is not an attempt to do tax reform on the backs of the poor,” said Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue.
Barfield said there will be a reallocation of tax burden to sales tax because of the increased rate and broadening of services.
He said there will be a slight increase across the board to businesses. That increase, he said, will be predictable and transparent.
“It’s very clear business will take more of this burden,” Barfield said.
Jindal wants to eliminate the state’s personal income and corporate taxes in favor of increasing the state sales tax by 47 percent and taxing services such as haircuts, cable television and other expenses.
The proposal will be debated in the legislative session that starts next month.
The governor wants the plan to be revenue-neutral, requiring nearly $3 billion in income tax collections to be replaced.
State Rep. Ted James, who spoke at the afternoon rally, said the governor’s plan amounted to unnecessary changes to the state’s tax system that could create revenue problems in the future.
“The tax plan just doesn’t add up,” the Baton Rouge Democrat said, quoting some of the signs the dozen or so ministers held.
“The people of Louisiana are worried,” James said. “We can’t allow Gov. Jindal’s presidential ambitions to hurt the working people of this state.”
Barfield said the Jindal administration put significant time and effort into building a rebate program to ensure there will not be an increased burden on the poor.
He said the governor wants to keep intact state sales tax exemptions on food, utilities and gas that are important to all families.