Our Views: Tax breaks still passing

Question: “At what point do we stop giving away our revenues?” That query from state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, was answered the day he asked it in the state House: not yet.

The latest giveaway — er, that’s development tax credit — was pushed by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, to revamp an insurance premium tax program to promote investing in distressed neighborhoods. A good cause, but one with a price tag of $49.5 million to the state.

Morris’ question was part of a heightened level of debate on a bill that might have sailed through the House a few years back. The bill is pushed by a respected legislator and involves promoting investments where they are needed; Leger assured the House that economic development would more than pay for the credits.

It passed, though with some opposition, 63-33, and goes on to the Senate.

The discussion, including Morris’ trenchant question, suggests a growing awareness about the gap between state needs and revenue sources — cut at the root by a host of these credits, breaks, exclusions and exemptions.

As Morris suggested, it’s gone on to the point that the state ought to wake up about the costs of the credits and breaks. These are, as the economists say, “tax expenditures,” the functional equivalent of writing a check from taxpayers to interests powerful enough to lobby the Legislature, and shrewd enough to market corporate benefits as valuable to society.

Even in a Legislature consumed by budget battles, there remains a path toward getting a taxpayer check in the House.

At what point do we stop giving away our revenues? Not yet, unfortunately.