House leader awaits Fiscal Office analysis
The sponsor of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax package said Monday that fiscal analysis of the plan will be key to the package’s success, but that the governor’s influence also carries weight.
“If the governor’s pushing something, it’s never dead on arrival,” state Rep. Joel Robideaux said. “I’m not arguing that there’s not hurdles or there’s not a lot of fixes that need to be made.”
Robideaux, R-Lafayette, stopped short of declaring that the package meets the governor’s goal of generating enough revenue to support a state budget that funds hospitals, colleges and other public services. The governor has said the complicated plan of tax swaps will be revenue neutral, ensuring there is no effect on the budget.
Robideaux said he awaits the Legislative Fiscal Office’s number-crunching determination. The office is staffed with economists who look at the financial effect of proposed legislation.
“I’m not going to say it’s revenue neutral until I’ve gotten the numbers from the Fiscal Office,” Robideaux said.
The financial neutrality has been one of the biggest issues to emerge in the governor’s push to eliminate the state’s personal income and corporate taxes. Some legislators and others fear broadening the sales tax base, increasing state sales tax and nearly tripling the cigarette tax will not generate enough revenue to prevent more rounds of midyear state budget cuts.
Other concerns focus on whether families would prosper under the plan.
Acting Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter said by email Monday that it will be another two weeks before his office completes its analysis of the package. “Now that the bills are prefiled, we have some additional questions that we need to get answered,” he said.
The Jindal administration is battling opposition from religious leaders, House Democrats and the state’s largest business lobbying organization. A Baton Rouge-based public research group, Public Affairs Research Council, raised questions about the financial figures used for the package’s underpinnings.
The administration said last week that it is working with PAR, the Legislative Fiscal Office and others “to ensure that we are using the best data available.”
Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which is located in the Washington, D.C., area, said Monday afternoon that the latest changes to the tax plan would increase taxes for the poorest 20 percent of Louisianians and middle-income residents.
The organization factored the proposed sales tax increase as well as the tobacco tax increase into its analysis.
Tim Barfield, executive counsel at the state Department of Revenue, said it is ridiculous to assume the public sector should bear the burden of tobacco use.
He said the governor’s tax plan contains many benefits. “It’s clear from our numbers that all families will be better off,” Barfield said.
As chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Robideaux is tasked with sponsoring the governor’s package, which he said “seems to be changing daily, weekly, by the minute.”
The day before Good Friday, the Jindal administration abruptly announced that the governor wants the state sales tax rate to increase from 4 percent to 6.25 percent, instead of to the 5.88 percent previously discussed. The combined state and local sales tax rate would climb to more than 11 percent on each dollar spent in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Robideaux said the change occurred following discussions within the state Department of Revenue about data sets. He said concerns arose about growth projections not mirroring what the Legislative Fiscal Office had seen in the past.
He said there is a will in the Legislature to change the state’s income tax system. The differences, he said, involve how the change is achieved.
Among the hundreds of bills filed ahead of the legislative session were 17 by Robideaux. He withdrew another bill after filing it.
His proposals include establishing a tax amnesty program, repealing the state personal income and corporate taxes, and removing a prohibition against the state applying a sales tax to fuel purchases.
The Jindal administration previously said state sales tax exemptions on groceries, prescription drugs and fuel would remain intact.
Douglas Baker, spokesman for the state Department of Revenue, referred questions about the fuel bill to Robideaux, saying it is not an administration bill.
Asked about the bill at the Press Club, Robideaux said it was filed in case it was needed even if it ends up dying on the vine. He said the Jindal administration did not ask him to file it.
Robideaux said the governor purposely started pitching the tax package two months ahead of the session after complaints that his education system changes were rushed through the Legislature last year.
He said there are constituents who support the tax changes. The problem, he said, is that they have not been vocal with their support.
“If constituents rally and decide this is something that needs to happen, that’s a game-changer,” Robideaux said.