Glimmer of hope for tax reform?
By Katie Gagliano / Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Slight movement on tax reform Wednesday and Thursday has offered a glimmer of hope for salvaging some semblance of tax reform this legislative session — key goal at the start of the session seven weeks ago. But the late-in-the-game efforts still have legislators frustrated as they face six working days until the session is gaveled to a close.
House Bill 673, by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, passed, 75-23, Thursday evening in its third and final appearance on the House floor, only one of a couple tax reform bills that have shifted into better position midweek. Tax measures require a super majority, or 70 votes, to pass.
Stokes’ hard-won victory would bring consistency to 75 percent of the state’s sales tax base, aligning rates and exemptions on the state and parish levels. Her bill now moves to the Senate, where Stokes told the Manship School News Service Thursday night she believes it has a shot if it’s positioned properly.
Her measure will be joined by a trio of bills from Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, which, with a single flat tax approach to corporate and individual income tax, brings a major change to the state’s tax policies. It would be presented to Louisiana voters next fall in the form of a constitutional amendment
Ivey’s House Bill 360 is one of the bills that passed midweek, advancing through the House in a 75-21 vote Wednesday after bringing tensions to a boil after it initially failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote Tuesday. Ivey’s bill passed after an amendment from Stokes stripped the bill, replacing it with a similar, but simpler, concept that previously appeared on the November 8 ballot.
Stokes said the simplified version helped assuage some legislators’ concerns, but even then there are representatives that refused to support anything tax related.
“Even when you’re trying to fix things...just having the ‘T’ word in your bill can stop it from getting passed,” she said.
Stokes said the lack of agreement on the Legislature’s most basic responsibilities, like producing a budget to fund state government, makes it difficult to achieve change. You can’t fix anything, she bemoaned, when half the Legislature is insisting the state is overspending and the other half is saying poor funding has put the state in jeopardy.
Even so, Stokes said the bills, especially her HB673, are a step in the right direction in moving Louisiana toward a more “rational, competitive” tax structure.
Ivey was less optimistic.
Clearly still heated over Tuesday’s dust up, he told the Manship School News Service he doesn’t think the version of his bill that advanced will do much to improve the business tax climate and provide businesses the tax stability they are seeking. Comprehensive reform, involving considerable legislation, is what was needed, he said, but noted that is not what is occurring.
“Comprehensive tax reform that lets the rest of the free world know we’re getting our act together with regards to policy...that’s kind of what I thought the whole point was, but it wasn’t. Politics still rules the day.”
Attention will now shifts to the Senate chamber, where the remaining tax reform will either limp to the finish line next Thursday or meet what is becoming a normal end.