2011 Session Now Resembles Rudderless Ship

Political observers are scratching their heads here this week over what is quickly becoming an out-of-control legislative session.

Election years always make lawmakers do crazy things, but they have really gone off the deep end this time. It could be something in the water or maybe a handful of legislators is simply trying to put Gov. Bobby Jindal in an embarrassing situation.

The two ringleaders are Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, and Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia. Both are chairmen of money committees in their respective houses, and they managed to get enough of their members to vote this week to abolish the state’s corporate and individual income taxes.

Doing away with income taxes is a great idea, but trying to do it when next year’s budget is already short by $1.6 billion is nothing short of lunacy.

No plan in sight

What both lawmakers are trying to do would cost the state between $10 billion and $15 billion over the next five years. Neither man has the faintest idea about how to raise that kind of money to replace the income tax revenues.

“I’m just putting it out there,” Greene said.

Marionneaux said, “Give the folks back home the tax break they deserve, rather than the special interests.”

Repeal of these taxes doesn’t help the little people of this state. Most of them don’t even pay state income taxes.

The senator did tip his hand a bit Tuesday when he said legislators could “review revenue generating opportunities” as one way to make up for the losses.

What he is talking about is higher taxes on something else. And fellow lawmakers who love to tax were quick to jump on that bandwagon.

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, was one of the few voices of reason during committee debate on Greene’s legislation.

“What are we attempting to do here?” he asked. “I’m questioning the responsibility of this.”

Danahay said he’s as ready as the next guy to talk about tax reform, but to do it like reasonable people should.

“We need to have a lengthy discussion in an open and deliberative process,” he said. “This doesn’t satisfy that requirement.”

No, it doesn’t, and Greene and Marionneaux know that. They are simply grandstanding and playing games that could end with serious consequences.

Jindal is a no-tax fellow, too, and that’s OK. However, when he said he would veto the extension of an existing 4-cents-per-pack cigarette tax, he lost credibility in the minds of many people.

The governor failed to show some badly needed leadership when Greene and Marionneaux and their supporters lost all sense of reason. Jindal should have made it clear from the outset he would veto their ridiculous income tax repeals if they got to his desk.

What he did say was far short of what you would expect from a governor who is so popular he doesn’t have any serious competition in his re-election bid this fall.

“We’re not going to take it seriously if they don’t put together a spending plan (to balance the budget),” he said through a spokesman.

What exactly does that mean? Greene and Marionneaux readily admitted they don’t have a plan. They are simply shooting in the dark for their own devious reasons.

And shame on the members of their committees who played along with their leaders’ lapse of sound judgment at a time when it is sorely needed by all 144 members of the Legislature.

Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City, voted for Greene’s repeal bills, but talked a different game a few hours later.

“I really like getting rid of income tax, but I’m a realist,” she said.

Why did she vote for the bills if she knows repeal isn’t in the cards? Smith said it was a statement, but a statement about what? That she and the others who voted with her don’t like income taxes?

I don’t like income taxes either. But I know the money to educate our young people and give health care coverage to the less fortunate has to be paid for by someone.

We can gripe about government all we want, but it does have the capability to do some things we can’t do on our own. Does it always do that efficiently? No, it doesn’t, but it does a lot of good nevertheless.

Process isn’t perfect

I have been covering legislative sessions off and on since 1968 and have come to appreciate the contributions of many legislators through the years.

Are there some bad apples in the bunch? You bet there are. But the vast majority are hard-working, seriousminded public servants.

When people ask me if I’m still covering “those crooked politicians in Baton Rouge,” I give them all the same stock answer. Spend some time at the state Capitol and see for yourselves before you paint them all with the same broad brush.

Unfortunately, reckless actions like those this week by Greene, Marionneaux and their small band of followers play right into the hands of those critics who are so quick to judge.

Income tax repeal still has to make it through both houses, but some think it could become a runaway train that can’t be stopped.

Reasonable people do reasonable things in a reasonable manner. What we saw here this week was scattershooting just to see what might fall from the sky.

The entire Legislature lost credibility in the process.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].



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