Over the weekend the Advocate’s Michelle Milhollon had an article on a Thanksgiving weekend meeting of the Louisiana Democrat Party’s legislative leadership discussing strategies for bringing their fortunes back from the brink of electoral extinction. It doesn’t appear the Democrats came up with too many workable ideas.
What they did come up with, according to Milhollon, doesn’t seem to stand up to the wishes of Louisiana’s voters in an election year.
Specifically, the Democrats seem to want to soak the rich – and the middle class – in order to bolster the state’s budget fortunes. Senate President Joel Chaisson (D-Destrehan) is touting a plan to raise taxes and eliminate deductions, specifically on businesses and higher income taxpayers. In poll after poll, most recently the survey conducted by Southern Media and Opinion Research last month, Louisiana’s voters have demonstrated they’re not interested in higher taxes, but Chaisson calls bringing back Stelly a “reasonable compromise.”
Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who heads up the Democrat Caucus in the state’s House of Representatives, wouldn’t go on the record with Milhollon as supporting Chaisson’s idea. “As a group, that decision has not been made collectively,” was his somewhat mealy-mouthed response.
Edwards also offered this to Milhollon upon being asked if cutting taxes – which the voters demanded and the legislature assented to in 2008 (the first year after the last election cycle) – was a bad idea:
“I’m not going to say we’re too generous. For several consecutive years, we ran large surpluses. None of us had a crystal ball,” Edwards said.
Indeed. It seems to stand to reason it’s not too generous for government to allow people to keep what they earn. That aside, though, the group does appear to be grasping at revenue. Among the items discussed at the meeting per a proposal from Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa)…
•A Jindal-backed acceleration of a cut in the sales tax that businesses pay for electricity and natural gas. This is expected to reduce state revenue by $250 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
•Allowing state income tax filers to deduct 100 percent of their federal excess itemized deductions on state returns. This is expected to reduce state revenue by $357 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
•The Legislature-led repeal of income tax increases made as part of the so-called “Stelly Plan.” This is expected to reduce state revenue by $262 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Other proposals include a new tax on cigarettes, the one tax that SMOR’s poll found public support for. How much could be raised from such a proposal is questionable. Gov. Bobby Jindal has said in any event that he will stand against any tax increases, which would make for some rather suspect optics for the Democrats as next spring’s legislative session kicks off the statewide election cycle.
Republicans now hold a 51-50 advantage in the state House of Representatives, with four independents. Democrats hold 22 of the 39 seats in the Senate, with 16 Republicans and one independent. But the state is trending hard to the right – Jindal’s poll numbers are weakening largely because the voters appear unsatisfied with his efforts at slashing the size and scope of state government, which wouldn’t indicate the Democrats will get anywhere agitating for “reasonable compromises” that include higher taxes.
Was it all about taxes at the Democrat mind-meld? Not exactly. Milhollon reports that other ideas were discussed, including “keeping funding for public schools static, redirecting dollars and delaying maintenance on state buildings.” Actually shrinking the size and scope of government, like the voters want? Nope.
The evidence continues to mount that Louisiana’s Democrat Party is devoid of ideas and out of step with the will of the electorate. And unless things change, next year’s election cycle could signal open season on the party in legislative races.