Legislators discuss tax overhaul plans

A local legislator said Wednesday that he is willing to forgo income tax relief for corporations in order to phase out personal income taxes.

“I don’t want the low-hanging fruit if I can get the ultimate goal of repealing income tax, because it effects so many more people,” said state Rep. Hunter Greene, who is sponsoring legislation to phase out personal income taxes over a 10-year period.

He said corporate income taxes and corporate franchise taxes also don’t raise much money.

The state expects to collect $340 million in corporate taxes and $2.6 billion in personal income taxes this budget year, according to the Revenue Estimating Conference.

Greene, state Rep. Erich Ponti and state Sen. Dan Claitor, all Republicans from Baton Rouge, discussed state policy issues with the Republicans of East Baton Rouge Parish in their first meeting since publicly announcing interest in running for Congress.

Shortly after U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, officially announced last week that he would challenge the re-election of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in 2014, the three state legislators expressed interest in replacing Cassidy.

The local party organization advertised its luncheon in emails by noting that its three speakers “have been mentioned as possible candidates.”

While interested in the congressional seat, the three state legislators said they were focusing first on the legislative session that began Monday and must adjourn by June 6.

They spoke of bills they’re following.

But the biggest issue, so far, is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s announcement Monday that he would no longer pursue his proposals to eliminate income taxes and replace the lost revenues with increased and expanded sales taxes. He challenged legislators to come up with their own plan to abolish personal and corporate income taxes in Louisiana.

“I got a kick out of the governor’s speech yesterday that he was going to park his plan. Listen real closely to that word ‘park,’ ” Claitor said. “When I park my car, I intend to pull it back out of the garage at some point. It’s not as though I’m going to kill my car.”

Claitor also pushed his bills that would require LSU and Southern University boards to publicly disclose whom the colleges are awarding scholarships.

“We need to be fiscally responsible,” Ponti said of the tax revamp plans. “The only way to do that is to be a comprehensive plan.”

Ponti also said he was interested in legislation in which industrial building contractors would impose a fee on themselves to help fund training for workers.

Greene, who has sought the elimination of income taxes in the past, touted his House Bill 271. HB271 would lower the personal income tax rates by about 10 percent per year until 2023, when there would be no more income tax. Greene said one of the problems with the governor’s idea was discomfort many lawmakers felt about the possible outcomes with an immediate tax swap.

The phase-out would give experience on how the changes would affect revenues over a longer period of time, he said.

“It’s hard to know what is truly revenue neutral in one fell swoop,” Greene said.