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Tax filing law culls inferior LA candidates

It turns out that a change made in recent years to qualifications for Louisiana elected office has brought a welcome order of natural selection for potential policy-makers.

Act 827 of 2010 amended R.S. 18:463 so that for all state and local candidates for office that for each of the previous five tax years, they must have filed his federal and state income tax returns, or filed for an extension of time for filing either federal or state income tax returns or both, or were not required to file either a federal or state income tax return or both. And, every election cycle, this requirement that candidates follow the law regarding their financial reporting to government trips up candidates.

Upcoming New Orleans municipal election have proven no different, if not exceptionally fertile, in this regard. No fewer than half a dozen face some kind of suit over that provision with one already ruled disqualified as a result.

That a candidate would sign up and pay a filing fee apparently unaware of this seems remarkable. But that so many that filed think the accusations bogus and insist either they have paid their state income taxes or don’t have to is astonishing.

Many may not know that the Louisiana Department of Revenue, under R.S. 47:1508, must divulge whether it has an income tax return under the name and address of somebody, although if so not the data involved. Thus, as a regular exercise, confederates of well-organized campaigns take opponents’ filing information and make public records requests to catch people afoul of the filing law, and then if appropriate sue to disqualify the candidacy.

Because of discrepancies in names and addresses, possibly this tactic may misidentify people who really did file, and a court hearing would determine whether a candidate with a particular Social Security number matches a document with that same set of digits. Or, possibly somebody actually had no taxable income and would not have to file, which a hearing can ascertain. But, as in this instance, the affected candidates for the most part express belief they actually paid their taxes or falsely believe they had no obligation to do so.

For example, one felt sure his wife mailed the document in question. Others claimed that they had sent in forms, despite that Revenue had no record of these. Another said he didn’t have to pay because of disability, but the only active exception in the tax code of that nature concerns disability payments to World War II veterans. And doesn’t anybody keep a copy of what they file, if they did file?

In this light, it appears the utility of the legal requirement goes beyond just candidate honesty in following the law. Not that everybody elected to office is a great prize (for example, see this former legislator), but one would hope that those elected at least have the wit to know the necessary qualifications for office and as part of that can keep track of whether they filed tax returns. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be in office in the first place with control over public monies.

So the lesson is that if you don’t know for sure whether you owe Louisiana state income taxes or can’t remember and/or don’t have records of such filings, maybe elective office in the state isn’t for you.

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