Louisiana’s Everlasting Sales Tax Debate

If the Louisiana Legislature wants to take the public's temperature on the popularity of sales taxes, the elections held in 46 parishes this past weekend offer a quick and dirty read. Voters defeated 80 percent of the ballot initiatives on Saturday that promoted either renewals, rededications or increases.

Only two parishes — Natchitoches and Richland — opted to pay more in local sales taxes back home. That a combined 2,600 voters participated in these two elections is a problem all by itself, but the turnout certainly doesn't suggest any enthusiasm for this type of government money-grab.

Meanwhile the electorates in Caddo, Calcasieu, Lafayette, Lafourche, Lasalle, Livingston and St. Tammany parishes all decided to shoot down similar sales tax initiatives. (Some by very small margins, like 19 votes in Lafourche and 119 votes in St. Tammany.)

Don’t try to read too much into the election results. As an overview, they don’t represent a scientifically-sound snapshot of the public's mood on the issue of sales taxes in general.

Yet the results do clearly show how a sampling of nine diverse parishes, on Saturday, April 29, 2017, overwhelmingly yielded negative reactions to the question of tinkering with local sales taxes.

The elections are relevant and timely because the Legislature — once again — is trying to decide what the state sales tax structure should look like. In fact, it may become the sticking point of this year’s regular session.

Last year lawmakers added a temporary increase of one penny to the state’s four-penny sales tax. Why? Because the state was facing yet another budget shortfall and sales taxes are a way that government officials can get cash in a hurry.

The resulting transitory revenue, along with that fifth penny, is set to expire in 2018, a reality that has Gov. John Bel Edwards urging lawmakers to find a replacement for the money that will disappear. In response, members of the House and Senate are wading through the knee-deep politics of this ongoing session and hoping a solution surfaces soon.

Thus far an answer to this “fiscal cliff” — a loss of $1.3 billion next year, due primarily to the change in the state sales tax — has been difficult to come by. This is not comforting news as the regular session quickly approaches its midway point. (Adjournment is scheduled for June 8.)

Then again, if it weren’t for the proverbial last minute, lawmakers would never get anything done. So we wait.

The fallback, and probably the most convenient, option for lawmakers would be to simply renew the additional penny of sales tax until after 2019, when they all come up for re-election again. That would punt the headache to the next governor and Legislature, which probably wouldn’t create the best optics for those in this current term.

Still, any serious conversation about the so-called fiscal cliff and the $440 million deficit the governor has prescribed to the next fiscal year eventually comes back around to the idea of renewal. In other words, it’s a possibility.

It’s worth noting here that some lawmakers agreed to add the temporary penny of sales tax in 2016 with the understanding that true budget and tax reforms would be passed this year. Indeed, many representatives and senators are still reaching for that brass ring.

But they’re also looking into ways to squeeze more money out of the state sales tax structure. In addition to the proposed renewal of the one new penny, a handful of lawmakers are also exploring keeping just a portion of that temporary increase. Others are investigating lowering the rate below four pennies and removing exemptions. Some even want to expand the sales tax base, so that more services are taxed.

Then there’s the politics involved. If conservative special interests can frame the extension of the penny as a true tax increase, that option might start creating more heartburn for Republicans. On the other hand, many Democrats view the sales tax as a regressive tax, so some Republicans see the extension as a way to stick it to Edwards, who needs to protect his Democratic base.

The governor has said repeatedly that renewing the fifth penny of state sales tax is not a road he wants to travel. But if it’s the only fiscal solution the Republican-dominated Legislature sends him, Edwards may let it stand. Aside from calling lawmakers into a fifth special session, he may have have few other choices.

That said, any legislative decision to move forward with an extension of the fifth penny, or any portion of it, will signal an inability to tackle true reforms in the areas of income taxes, tax breaks, funding to local governments and much more. It will also send a clear signal that this term of state government will ultimately be remembered for operating as an exercise in politics, rather than an exercise in policymaking.

POD: “So They Named Me Peppi”

He’s the one-time speaker pro tem, a master of the redistricting process, a former GOP House delegation chair and a current member of the

Political Birthdays & Other Dates Of Note

— Tuesday 08/15: Joe Mapes, Karen Carver Shachat, Megan Regina and Randy Angelle — Wednesday 08/16: Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Dustin

ICYMI: Oil Spill Claims Process Nearing An End

After five years, nearly 400,000 claims and more than $9 billion in payment offers, BP’s massive settlement program may be coming to a close

ICYMI: Trump Has Another Judge to Name 

After a lengthy and public controversy involving her severe alcoholism, U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi finally took her disability

The “So Basically…” News Update 

1.) CORRUPTION ALERT! — What happened: “A. Wayne Lawson, a key witness in the attempted election bribery case against Ascension Parish

Political Chatter

— Former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s new book, “Scopena: A Memoir of Home,” will be released by UL Press on Sept. 19. LEARN MORE — District

LaHISTORY: Louisiana’s First Senators

For the first four months after it entered statehood, Louisiana didn’t have any representation in the U.S. Senate in Washington. But that

Barras, Edwards Meeting Wednesday

Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling it Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff,” and it’ll be the prime topic of conversation Wednesday when he meets with

Compromise Caucus A Grand Experiment

Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion Research is fond of saying, “If you’re in the middle in Louisiana politics then you’re

Sponsored: The Life of A Congressman On “Break”

Congress breaks for recess each August. For many Members of Congress, the hiatus is anything but a break from their duties. Just ask

POD: The Constitutional Boogie

  In this episode of The LaPolitics Report podcast you’ll learn why the people and politics of the 1973 convention and 1974

Political Birthdays & Others Dates Of Note

  — Tuesday 08/08: Late Gov. O.K. Allen (1882), CCA’s David Cresson, Mechelle Evans, Mary Lee Orr, Michelle Ward Ghetti and Kyle

ICYMI: Danahay Running For Mayor

Rep. Mike Danahay wants to ditch his legislative seat in order to become the next mayor of Sulphur. Friends say he has already put a team

ICYMI: Putting The Badge On The Ballot

Former Rep. Joe Lopinto will remain the interim sheriff as long as the Jefferson Parish Council lets him. That’s the body that will

Newspaper News, Via LPA

— The Advocate (Baton Rouge), The Courier (Houma), the Daily Comet (Thibodaux), The Daily News (Bogalusa) The St. Charles Herald-Guide

The “So Basically…” News Update

1.) CAMO POLITICS — What happened: “While they are running for state Treasurer, Republicans Neil Riser and Angele Davis stressed Tuesday

Political Chatter For The Week

— A little Twitter scoop for AP ace @MelindaDeslatte today: “Democratic candidate for treasurer Derrick Edwards has started fundraising,

LaHISTORY: Richard Nixon, Jim Brown And Louisiana 

It was on this day (August 9) in 1974 that Richard Milhous Nixon resigned as president of the United States. (Watch that historic recording

Are Lawmakers Worth What We Pay Them?

Would you become a Louisiana legislator for one year if someone paid you $16,800? Some of you are probably thinking that there’s no

Sponsored: An Update On TOPS

The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students faced another round of changes during the 2017 Louisiana legislative session, including a raise

POD: The Stylist & The Coroner

SEASON 2, EPISODE 14: THE STYLIST & THE CORONER Go to two very different corners of Louisiana politics in this episode with stylist

LaHISTORY: A Senator With Two Artificial Arms

In 1876 the ultra-conservative Redeemer Democrats were only one vote away from having control of the Louisiana Senate. As a means to

Competition for Higgins

While it might be a while until we start hearing more chatter about 2018’s congressional races, speculation is already stirring in the 3rd

Race For Senate President Starting Early?

One of the more substantive issues looming over the next term of the Louisiana Legislature is who will succeed Senate President John Alario

Political Birthdays And Other Dates Of Note

— Tuesday 08/01: J Hudson, Sarah Louise Gaudet, Brad Lambert, Caroline Moses Spouse, Rannah Gray and Malcolm Ehrhardt — Wednesday 08/02: