Analysis: Partisanship possible factor in failure of La. tax reform proposals

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - This was supposed to be the year to shake up the tax system and put an end to the constant cycle of budget shortfalls. However, lawmakers have already thrown several key proposals from a non-partisan task force in the trash can.

While some lawmakers disagreed with the proposals outright, other legislators speculate that partisanship may largely be to blame for the death of those ideas.

Back in January, a task force, made up of good government types, business leaders, and economists, wrapped up nearly a year's worth of meetings focused on identifying best practices for how to fix the state's tax and budget woes. They released a report outlining those recommendations.

The governor's office incorporated many of those ideas when drafting their tax bills for this session. However, those measures have since come under the axe in a Republican-controlled committee.

"I just don't think that there's the sense of urgency in the legislature to address this," said Barry Erwin, a long-time legislative watchdog with the Council for a Better Louisiana, who was part of the task force.

"Everything was set up so that this was the session where we had to address this," he continued. "We had time, the cliff isn't until next year. We had a whole year of study and review of all kinds of things with our tax structure, and we're just not going to do it apparently."

The bills would have eliminated certain income tax deductions, while at the same time reducing the income tax rates for businesses and individuals. Overall, the proposals would have shifted the tax burden away from individuals, making business carry more of the weight. Republicans balked.

"If this is just a policy shift, it doesn't look like it's such a good policy shift for business," said Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central.

However, Ruston Republican Rob Shadoin, an ally of the governor who sponsored the bills on the Democrat's behalf, said another motive may have been at play.

"I've even had some tell me, 'Rob, it wasn't so much that it was your bill, it was the fact that the administration was behind it,'" he recounted. "Is that where we're going to stop with our analysis?"

And that could be a sign of coming attractions at the legislature, particularly on tax and budget issues.

"If they're going to raise taxes or change taxes or adjust taxes, they'd rather do it under a Republican governor than a Democrat. A Republican gives them cover, a Democrat can't," Erwin said.

Still, some lawmakers remain optimistic that if the task force's recommendations are not adopted, something else may come in their place.
 
"We still have three weeks left in session, as you know, most things get done at the end of the session," said Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge.

Davis says many Republicans were frustrated that the governor's plans – based on the task force recommendations – simply lowered the income tax rates. She would have rather seen a flat tax, believing it to be more fair.

There are a few tax policy overhaul proposals in the House that could gain traction, including one sponsored by Ivey. However, the fate of that bill remains unclear.

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