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Sam Hanna Jr.: Where’s the leadership?

April 19, 2017
By Sam Hanna Jr
Originally Posted on The Franklin Sun

Gov. John Bel Edwards has put a host of tax proposals on the table for the Legislature to entertain in the regular session, most of which will die in committee.

They’ll die because most lawmakers know the voting public isn’t interested in paying higher taxes and because the governor hasn’t shown he’s inclined to do the heavy lifting to make it happen. Forget about that LSU survey that claims a majority of Louisianians would support higher taxes for this or that or the other. It’s hogwash, plain and simple.

It’s entirely possible the Legislature won’t do much anything in the 60-day session that convened on Monday of last week and must adjourn for good by 6 p.m. on June 8. Though the Edwards administration has warned the state faces a fiscal cliff in about a year, lawmakers, for the most part, don’t even seem interested in extending a “temporary” one-cent sales tax they embraced a year ago to patch the budget. The “temporary” penny is scheduled to roll off the books in 2018. You could argue it’s keeping the state afloat for the time being, but why tackle something today that can easily be put off to the last minute, or in a special session down the road?

A key component of the Edwards tax plan involves a far-reaching version of a gross receipts tax. Few people understand it, and that’s partly the case because the governor hasn’t done a very job of explaining it to anyone. Even fewer people have expressed much support for it. Furthermore, the state’s largest business lobby — Louisiana Association of Business and Industry — opposes it. That means most Republicans in the House of Representatives are against it.

In other words, the gross receipts tax is dead. Edwards should put it away and forget about it.

While the gross receipts tax has gotten its fair share of publicity of late, it’s Edwards’ proposal to take away the federal income tax deduction that tax filers can claim on their state income tax returns that’s sure to drum up the most opposition, assuming the general public is even aware the proposal exists. But once the folks on the home front realize the Legislature is considering hitting them with $750 million to $1 billion in new taxes, which is what eliminating the deduction would mean, you can rest assured lawmakers will hear from their constituents, and the conversations, to put it mildly, won’t be nice.

There’s widespread agreement the state needs to do something about its deplorable roads and bridges. It’s widely known as well the state has a backlog of some $13 billion in road and bridge projects that the existing state sales tax on gasoline won’t ever pay for or come close to paying for in 10 lifetimes.

Edwards has said he wants to raise the state sales tax on gasoline, but the governor hasn’t necessarily committed to a specific figure. One of those blue-ribbon tax study committees suggested raising the state gas tax by 23 cents per gallon. Other proposals are out there including one being peddled by state Rep. Steve Carter of Baton Rouge. Carter proposes to raise the gas tax by 17 cents a gallon. In all, taxes on gasoline, including state and federal, would rise to 55 cents per gallon in Louisiana if the Legislature went along with Carter.

Put it this way, under Carter’s proposal a motorist who buys 25 gallons of gasoline a week would pay an additional $4.25 in taxes each week for fuel for their automobile. That’s more than $220 a year for just 25 gallons of gasoline weekly, and as we all know, many motorists buy far more than 25 gallons of gas in a given week.

Perhaps the public could be convinced that the state needs to raise the sales tax on gasoline to fix some roads and build some new ones. They’ll never get behind it, though, until someone explains in minute detail which roads would be repaired and where the new ones would be built.

That’s what a governor should do.

It’s call exhibiting some leadership.

And that’s what Edwards needs to start doing.