LABI official: Some in business not warming to Jindal tax plan

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Jim Patterson, vice president of governmental relations for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, speaks Wednesday at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce's 2013 LABI Legislative Issues Luncheon at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette. At left is LABI vice president of political action Brian Landry. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Jim Patterson, vice president of governmental relations for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, speaks Wednesday at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce's 2013 LABI Legislative Issues Luncheon at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette. At left is LABI vice president of political action Brian Landry.

An official with a Louisiana business association told about 250 people Wednesday that it’s been hard to gauge whether Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax revamp plan is good for business because the details have been so sparse.

With a month to go before Louisiana’s legislative session, the lack of details on a plan could signal that some in the business community have not liked what they’ve seen, said Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

“The governor’s people are trying to get a sense of what’s acceptable” to business, Patterson said at a Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Some of the feedback by business to the Jindal administration has been “chilly,” Patterson said.

This week, Jindal’s office said the administration would release the tax details by March 15 to a House budget committee.

The session officially begins April 8, but the Legislature’s money committees meet year-round.

Jindal administration officials last year started making appearances around the state touting a plan to lower tax rates and eliminate tax exemptions, which officials said would be revenue neutral and would help business development in Louisiana.

In January, Jindal announced the state would pursue a plan to eliminate state income taxes and raise sales taxes on an expanded category of goods and services, which also would be revenue neutral.

Patterson said the Jindal team might be wrestling with how to make the projected revenue numbers work.

“If you squeeze it here, it bulges there,” Patterson said. “If you squeeze it there, it bulges here.”

The chamber luncheon was a pre-session event designed to keep members abreast of the legislative landscape.

Patterson said that because there have been few specifics released, LABI looked at Texas as a primer.

But Jindal’s people “don’t necessarily feel obliged to do it as Texas does.”

Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, told chamber members that legislators this year should insist on a tax system that’s transformed and operates in full view of the public.

Cortez also called for a slowed, methodical approach for composing complex laws.

The rush to pass education reform laws last year meant mistakes that resulted in court challenges and judges overturning the laws, he said.

“Slow down … and really ask the tough questions,” Cortez said.

Other legislators weighed in on what looks to be another legislative session filled with money woes.

Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, said he would continue his fight to pare down the state’s retirement liabilities by introducing bills to bring about pension reform.

He said Louisiana’s unfunded retirement liabilities in January reached $19.3 billion, up $800 million from January 2012, a “ticking time bomb that threatens Louisiana’s future.”

Guillory said the state should get away from providing its workers with “Cadillac” pension plans.

“If we do not invest in pension reform … we’re going to be in dire straits,” Guillory said.