The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on taxes and the poor:

March 19

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on taxes and the poor:

If the poor in Louisiana don't have much of a constituency at the State Capitol, where better-heeled interests predominate, an expression of concern from the state's clergy might make some trouble for the sales tax increases proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The delegation of clergy members writing to express doubts about sales tax increases included more than 250 pastors of predominantly Protestant congregations, but also spanning the racial divide of Sunday mornings in Louisiana.

Their main issue: Louisiana's "unfair and regressive tax structure" that Jindal's plan might well make worse, not better.

In outline, although not yet in detailed legislation, the governor's plans include elimination of the personal and corporate income and franchise taxes. The loss in state revenue would be made up, mostly, by an increase in sales taxes and broadening the tax take from sales taxes by levying it on services not previously taxed in Louisiana.

Life as the clergy see it is not fair. ...

For Jindal, who promotes the tax swap as a way to generate new jobs in the state, the issue of the regressive nature of sales taxes has not gone unrecognized. He has suggested, although without detail as yet, that he has ideas about how to mitigate the impact of sales taxes on the poor.

Like the clergy, we are concerned that whatever is proposed might not be enough. ...

The Stelly plan's income tax levies helped to create a growing revenue stream, but Jindal pushed big tax cuts that eroded the general fund, leading to many of the cuts referred to in the clergy letter.

If there is original sin in this tax debate, we suggest it is the repeal of the Stelly income tax provisions. The instability that has ensued in state finances leads to all sorts of tributary sins.

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