Throughout the course of this year’s Louisiana budget debate, a storm has been brewing over how to resolve the state’s $1.2 billion overspending problem. At various points an internet sales tax, 194% tax hike on cigarettes, and restoring spending cuts were all floated as partial resolutions. Fortunately, Gov. Jindal’s pledge to “oppose and veto any and all efforts to raise taxes” has helped keep legislators focused on their primary task – reining in spending - with the exception of HB 591: a $12 million cigarette tax increase that Gov. Jindal promptly vetoed today. To override the governor’s veto, which hasn’t occurred in Louisiana since 1993, legislative leadership is working to secure the two-thirds vote needed to implement the tax hike.
What many political observers will find odd is that the legislators spending scarce time and political capital whipping for a veto override vote to raise taxes are Jindal’s fellow Republicans. While balancing his budget, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asked by reporters why he wouldn’t just take the easy way out and raise taxes, like proponents of HB 591 are currently trying to do. Christie’s response:
“You and I have different ideas of what being a Republican is all about because I'm not going to raise taxes”.
While Gov. Jindal is of the same philosophy as Chris Christie, far too many Republican legislators in Louisiana wish to deviate from the Jindal-Christie governing model that has served both good policy and good politics, yielding Republicans great success over the past two years. While the following members of the Louisiana legislature have broken their Taxpayer Protection Pledge by voting in favor of HB 591, they have one last chance to clear their name by voting to sustain Gov. Jindal’s veto:
Steve Carter (H-38), Jean Doerge (H-10), Joe Harrison (H-51), Dorothy Sue Hill (H-32), Sam Jones (H-50), Anthony Ligi (H-79), and Jerome Richard (H-55)
The leadership’s actions have left some of the grassroots bases so disenchanted that some Louisiana tea party groups have called for La. Speaker of the House Jim Tucker to resign. From Monday’s Tea Party of Louisiana press release:
“House Speaker Jim Tucker (R) was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate on May 20th: ‘I intend to vote for it [the tax] because I don’t want to reduce taxes on cigarettes’. According to several sources, the Speaker has been working behind the scenes to rally seventy house members to override the Governor’s veto. … ‘It is unbelievable that a republican Speaker of the House would be working hard to renew a tax,’ said Bob Reid, spokesman for the Tea Party of Louisiana. ‘We have worked very hard over the last year to give republicans majorities in both chambers. To think that they would use these majorities to raise taxes is just unspeakable,’ added Reid".
The false claims that a temporary tax hike would expire on schedule will leave a sour taste in Louisianans’ mouths that Californians and North Carolinians know all too well, though it’s one usually propagated by Democrats, not Republicans. Any Republicans who vote in favor of the tax hike will surely face upset constituents, a harrowing prospect for legislators planning on making re-election bids this November. A September 6-8 qualifying period precedes the October 22nd primary, where Tea Party support will be a key factor in determining who survives an inner-Republican Party challenge. Tea Party groups will come out in full force during the primary season against any Republicans that vote to override the HB 591 veto.
One action that may help redeem the tattered reputations of the leadership would be eliminating the state’s income tax, a proposal now up for consideration in the current session by the name of Senate Bill 259. Doing so would encourage economic growth and fiscal responsibility in the state, certainly pleasing Taxed-Enough-Already groups.