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Hardly ended, myths about legislative session circulate

The 2011 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature hardly has rested in the grave without misinformation about it suddenly sprouting above it. Fortunately, we have this space to keep things accurate for the record.

In summarizing the session, from one interest group we have the proclamation that “There was no new payroll tax on government workers,” which is kind of odd to see since no bill authored offered that. Perhaps its author was making reference to the likes of HB 479 by state Rep. Kirk Talbot that sought to increase the proportion of salary state employees would pay towards their retirement. But that’s not a tax, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Further, for some local public safety personnel, the contribution rate did change, even downwards in a few cases.
HB 332 by state Rep. Kevin Pearson, among other things, for most of these personnel did increase their rate, dependent upon the size of the employing agencies’ contribution (which itself depends upon the state’s progress in funding the unfunded accrued liabilities in the funds backing these retirement payments), while for a few it actually would decrease rates because of their lower salary levels. While Talbot’s bill unwisely was sidetracked, Pearson’s is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Another misstatement comes from an editorial page, where, in a piece about haste in whether to lower income taxes after the failure of SB 259 by state Sen. Rob Marionneaux  to do so, the newspaper proclaims, “State officials and residents alike now have that time — two years until the next fiscal session of the state Legislature.”

By this statement, the author shows not to understand the Louisiana Constitution on this point. Its Art. III Sec. 2 defines even-numbered years as “general” sessions and odd-numbered years as “fiscal-only” sessions. Fiscal matters may be brought up during any regular session. However, in even-numbered years, no new taxes, renewals, increases, or removal of any tax exemption, exclusions, deductions, or credits may occur. No such restriction exists on reducing or eliminating taxes, or adding to exemptions, exclusions, deductions, or credits.

Thus, next year legislation could be passed to start, even entirely eliminate, state individual income taxes as was the object of SB 259. So by stating it must be “two years” until considering the matter again, the anonymous author betrays a bias towards offsetting income tax receipts not with spending cuts but with tax increases in other areas and/or reduction of exemptions. There’s no reason to have to wait on passing a tax cut next year; if certain interests want to try to find revenues through other means after the cut is initiated in 2012, they can go for that in 2013.

But perhaps the most substantial inaccuracy is the notion that the 2011 budget process eliminated dreaded “members’ amendments” from state budgets. These, which steer state money to local governments and nonprofits, do not appear in HB 1, the operating budget. But they do appear elsewhere. Two for Rapides Parish appear in HB 611, the supplemental appropriations bill. Further, HB 2, the capital outlay bill, contains dozens (those for nonprofits start on p. 104, mixed in with ones for local government, totaling around $140 million).

As such, state taxpayers continue to foot the bill for pork in the form of fixed assets that local governments or entities unconnected to government should finance on their own.

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