Gov. Bobby Jindal tapped his former executive counsel, Tim Barfield, on Wednesday to serve as the state’s revenue secretary at more than double the salary of the agency’s previous leader.
The $250,000 annual salary makes Barfield one of the governor’s highest-paid Cabinet secretaries.
The previous state revenue secretary, Cynthia Bridges, resigned in June following an uproar over an alternative fuel tax credit that she concluded applied to more vehicles than previously thought. Bridges made $124,000 a year.
“In terms of salary, we can’t pay (Barfield) what he was making in the private sector,” Jindal said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “We were able to get him for less.”
Barfield did not return a phone message left at his office.
The governor said Barfield will lead his efforts to undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s tax code and propose changes that will not raise taxes or state revenue.
Jindal said he wants a flatter, lower tax code that will encourage economic development.
By making tax reform a priority for the legislative session that starts in April, the governor is jumping into an issue that has legislators clamoring for changes that seem to clash with what he is advocating.
A number of legislators are concerned that state tax breaks are diverting revenue that could be spent on hospitals, colleges and other state services.
Barfield’s hiring caused some shuffling at the state Department of Revenue. He will be acting secretary until his appointment and salary are confirmed by legislators.
Former state Rep. Jane Smith led the state Department of Revenue after Bridges’ resignation. The Governor’s Office said Smith now will return to her previous job of deputy revenue secretary.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said he is concerned about the size of Barfield’s salary given the state’s financial difficulties. He said health care funding is being cut, basic state aid to public schools is stagnant and new state troopers are not being trained.
“It seems rather unfair to me. I guess I’m happy for Tim, but the previous secretary, Cynthia Bridges, was a long-term public servant and I don’t know what made her worth half as much as Tim Barfield,” Edwards said.
State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he will expect a lot from Barfield based on the salary.
“I think Tim Barfield’s a great guy. I loved him when he was at Workforce Development ... I’m tickled that he’s back,” Donahue said.
Barfield previously worked for Jindal as executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, formerly the state Labor Department, and executive counsel.
He left the Jindal administration for a job as chief development officer for Baton Rouge-based Amedisys, which provides home health and hospice care. Amedisys recently reported a second-quarter earnings drop of more than 60 percent.
Prior to joining state government, Barfield was the president and chief operating officer of The Shaw Group. Part of his exit agreement from Shaw included a $1 million lump sum in exchange for not working for competitors or disclosing trade information.
In naming Barfield as revenue secretary, Jindal also made the announcement about his planned focus on tax system reform.
A review of the state’s tax system already is occurring independent of the governor through a panel of legislators.
The Revenue Study Commission met Wednesday to get an overview of the state’s tax structure.
State Department of Revenue Interim Assistant Secretary Jason Decuir highlighted the 468 tax exemptions on Louisiana’s books.
He said the first of the state’s tax exemptions was enacted in 1912.
After the presentation, commission members asked Decuir to do even more work.
“Are we getting the bang for the buck is what I’m looking for,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said.
The commission is tasked with deciding whether all of the state’s tax credits and other exemptions are worth keeping.
The credits and exemptions divert billions of dollars in state revenue at a time in which state government is struggling to keep public services at their current levels.