Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This legislature: reform minded or reelection driven?

There’s more than a little talk of reform now that the fiscal session of Louisiana’s legislature is in high gear, but some around the state are wondering whether the reform is genuine or if it’s more likely fodder for the cannons of lawmakers who will soon find themselves embroiled in reelection campaigns.
As of Friday, more than 900 bills had been introduced in the House, while Senators had marched to the calendar to mark 328 pieces of legislation. That’s a hefty number to be sure, but so many more will be coming that the previously mentioned numbers will soon seem insignificant. So far — the dreaded Stelly Plan excluded — few have been targeting what some good government types might consider real reform.
Speaking of Stelly, it seems a slight bit ironic that the bill’s originator — former state Rep. Vic Stelly of Lake Charles — apparently has been heard denying his “plan” was ever designed to be revenue neutral. That, of course, has caused some who remember the drumbeat of the 2002 stump campaign across the state hyping the “nothing but neutral” constitutional amendment. Even a larger dose of irony — Stelly was an alleged tax-hating Republican when he authored, advanced and actively campaigned for the “tax exchange.”
When adopted by the state’s voters in ‘02, the plan eliminated the state’s 3.9 percent sales tax on groceries for the masses and residential utilities. Certain tax filers also saw the rate drop on the first $25,000 of their reported income. Taxes were raised by reducing the following tax bracket to cover more income at six percent rather than four, and it stopped excess itemized deductions on state income tax forms. Hardest hit by the “revenue neutral” plan were those families with more than $50,000 gross income and a mortgage with interest payments.
Several polls have indicated that state voters are more than a little miffed about the Stelly Plan, and would love to see major provisions, including the “tax swap” features, eliminated or seriously overhauled. In fact, some of those who voted for Stelly reportedly have been targeted by prospective challengers. In our little corner of the world, Billy Montgomery has been identified in both political ads and by one columnist as “the deciding vote” in moving the Stelly Plan into law.
One may be forgiven for reminding some that Montgomery’s vote was only one of the two-thirds needed in the House to allow the voters to decide in November, 2002. One truth, however, is that the largest majority of that two-thirds told constituents that Stelly would benefit the largest percentage of the state’s households. Today, that story is changing as campaigns for the Legislature begin to take shape.
Bills to alter Stelly have been filed and will soon be hitting Taylor Townsend’s committee (Ways and Means) where the the chairman (Townsend) has promised to make sure the baby isn’t thrown out with the wash. Translation: We may overhaul the taxing structure, but not at the expense of all that nice revenue which has found its way into the state’s funding mechanisms.
And, it will be interesting to listen to debate on the revised Stelly as legislators attempt to strike a balance between cutting into the surplus (estimated around $2 billion in some circles) and giving something back to those who give most...the great unwashed who will soon be casting those dirty ballots.
It is, also, a shame that Stelly’s parts are now undergoing a scrubbing only because of the aforementioned surplus. One would hope that plans by several Republicans which have been seeing a goodly portion of ink would have been offered simply because Stelly wasn’t exactly all it was hyped to be. If it’s a little bad now that we have lots of money, wonder how it would be at all bad if our budget was “revenue neutral.”
The giving back is significant in some of the bills filed. A pair of Republicans (Michael Walsworth and Jim Tucker) suggest allowing itemized deductions on state income tax forms to the tune of a $270 million give-back to state filers. Another piece by (Republicans, again) Tim Burns and Gordon Dove would revert to pre-Stelly tax brackets at a return-to-giver windfall of $320 million. And, legislation offered by new Republican Billy Montgomery would make both changes at a return to the state taxpayers of $546 million. Tidy sums, all. Mayhaps the authors are trying to make up for the sins of one former Republican lawmaker.
Whether the legislature goes along with the public’s wish for “reform” will be determined by the shape of the Stelly give-backs. And, we can watch the campaign ads of the future to determine just who we can thank for getting us a little of our money back...for now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat, you need to take the place of Marshall Fannin. Get the word out about your blog. There are a lot of folks looking for a place to express themselves.

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with that other anonymous. Pat, get the word out about your blog and then post stuff more often. And by the way, I believe the Legislature is definitely re-election driven. I've never seen such a mess -- except in Congress where Bobby Jindal is touting everything he's had a hand in writing and passing to keep his name out there for governor. Like any of us could forget him!

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat, keep your blogs concise so they don't take so long to read. Then allow for comments.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous James Evans said...

Pat, listened to your radio show last night. One of the best I've heard. Keep up the good work!

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Annoymous said...


As one who is retired with no mortgage, I like Stelly...and those who are in that 50k and up range, well they can get their heads out of their back sides, vote for Foster Campbell and solve all of the state income tax problems in our great state. And for those who don't think this is a great state...don't let the door hit you in the backside...sorry Pat, I gotta go to a cockfight and I am already really late....

6:55 AM  
Blogger dspechtbossier said...

Maybe you need to use a "Street inspired" name...

Marshall Fannin, meet

"Todd Lakeshore"

Only people in Minden will get that reference

7:46 AM  

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