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On tax cut, disingenuous posers put politics over people

As the Legislature signs off for this year and thereby the people can breathe a sigh of relief, but it appears that being able to protect their wallets from big government comes with the price of forgoing a most needed and fundamentally correct change to state taxation and spending habits.

SB 259, in the form it started, was a good bill. It was to have eliminated personal and corporate income taxes starting this tax year in five years. It was possible by making just a few easy changes to make up for the lost revenues for the first couple of years, buying enough time to allow the greater tax collections from increased economic activity set off by the reduction to begin manifesting and to derive where to cut additional spending in the time remaining for the cut to play itself out.

But you always had to be suspicious of the motives of its sponsor, one of the endangered species of the Legislature, white populist Democrat state Sen. Rob Marionneaux.
In the past, the term-limited Marionneaux had given plenty of support that taxation ought to be rearranged so that fewer paid more of them. Last year, he sponsored SB 432 which would have instituted an oil processing tax that would have resulted in roughly $300 million extra estimated in state coffers (if the severance tax was repealed), which would have been gathered by processors passing it on as higher costs to consumers – if it didn’t run them out of the state and their tax dollars with them in the first place. He could not offer the same kind of bill this session because the Legislature may consider tax renewals, increases, or removal of tax exemptions only in even-numbered years in regular session by the Constitution.

So, one had to be concerned that the income tax eliminations were a prelude to force the state into tax increases in other manners. And, also the offer could be a ploy by Marionneaux to retain a political future. With nowhere to go after the end of this year, if Marionneaux could get it on the record that he authored the biggest tax cut in state history – and especially where he could make it look like he met with resistance from ideological opponents who should be for the cut but worried about the impact on state finances such as Gov. Bobby Jindal – it might raise his profile enough to be able to win something somewhere.

Adding to the unease about this kind of legislation were similar measures was being sponsored by another untrustworthy legislator, state Rep. Hunter Greene. The Republican Greene voiced early support for SB 259, even when it changed to just apply to individual income taxes and was to be phased in over 10 years starting for fiscal year 2013. But past experience shows Greene will say anything, even if untrue, to pass a bill.

For example, last year when Greene authored the successful HB 292 which changed elections from Congress from a closed primary back to the previous blanket primary system. Yet perhaps one reason it succeeded was because of misinformation Greene knowingly made on the House floor on several occasions, concerning the kinds of primary systems out there and their actual numbers. And the reason he knew better was because he and I exchanged a series of notes about it where I told him the actual figures and explained the different kinds of primaries (you can read all about it here), yet persisted in passing off false information as true.

Like Marionneaux, Greene also has ulterior electoral motives to make it appear he wants to posture as a tax-cutter. He would like nothing more than to be paid for holding office, as evidenced by his vote and enthusiastic support for giving these part-time legislators full-time salaries in 2008. When that effort met with Jindal’s veto, Greene next eyed becoming a family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish earlier this year – only to be defeated by a political unknown benefitting from the animosity Greene had generated by trying to give himself a full-time salary for part-time work.

He knows this dynamic will work against him should he seek reelection this year, or if he plans on contesting some other office now or later, so, again, tax-cutting credentials could help erase memories of the pay raise fiasco. However, also his acceptance of future tax increases in other areas remains suspicious, for he supported the making of the 4 cents-a-pack cigarette tax permanent and in 2009 was the decisive non-vote to allow a much bigger increase of that kind to go through his committee, which also reviewed these 2011 measures.

With these characters running the show on this issue, you had to suspect political rather genuine tax-cutting motives. And they showed that when the Senate came back with an improvement on Marionneaux’s bill, now not only cutting taxes, but to cut spending as well, in a manner that all-but-guaranteed both would be meaningful with an election year on the horizon, because they opposed the amended measure and now wanted to begin the cutting in time for fiscal year 2014 – tipping their hands that they wanted the Legislature to get a crack at raising taxes or getting rid of exemptions in the next regular session it would be allowed, 2013.

The final evidence of their disingenuousness is that Greene tried to amend out the Senate spending cut changes after the House had put them back in after he had them removed in committee, and, upon failing to do so, said he would wash his hands of the matter and let the bill languish. And Marionneaux continued attempts to bring up the bill in order to do what Greene tried. The bill would pass if the House simply would pass it in its current form and the Senate would follow suit.

Marionneaux, Greene, and many of their allies especially among Democrats never have seriously thought of these bills primary as ways to shrink the size of government and to allow people to keep more of what they earn. Instead, they want to be able to posture as something they are not and try to embarrass political opponents (no doubt Greene remains upset at Jindal for hanging him out to dry on the pay raise issue, reinforced by his recent defeat). It’s a shame that their dishonest posing is going to cost Louisianans their best chance ever at right-sized government while retaining more of what is theirs.

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