Late Monday, the Tea Party of Louisiana put out this press release…
BATON ROUGE – Both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature have passed House Bill 591, which renews a 4-cent cigarette tax first enacted in 2000. At the time, the tax was said only to be temporary. Governor Jindal has said that HB 591 represents an actual tax increase and that he will veto it.
Conversely, 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.
The Tea Party of Louisiana demands that Jim Tucker resign as Speaker of the house.
“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 entire Louisiana legislature seems to be devoid of conservative leadership, in both chambers,” said Reid. “We cannot wait for fall elections to find new leadership in the House. We need new leadership right now and that’s why we are demanding Jim Tucker step down as Speaker,” added Reid.
Tucker has also been criticized for giving control of the budgeting process back to the democrats, despite republicans gaining control of both chambers earlier this year.
“The people of Louisiana want conservative leadership in the state legislature. We are tired of tax-and-spend liberals who don’t understand the limited role of government set forth in the Constitution,” said Reid.
Jim Tucker will be term limited at the end of this session. He is rumored to be running for Secretary of State and in need of support from democrats to win statewide office.
Generally I’m in support of TPOL’s activism and they’re usually on the money when it comes to issues at the legislature.
But this is just stupid.
Do I think Jindal is right to oppose renewal of the cigarette tax? Probably so. It’s a valid point to say that tax was put in place to be temporary and temporary means when it expires it goes away. Renewing it is tantamount to a new tax, strictly speaking.
They’re not completely wrong. But they’re also not completely right, either. Renewing that tax means taxes stay what they were last year. Taxes don’t go up based on this renewal.
I don’t have a problem with TPOL opposing the renewal of the tax. But to call for Tucker’s resignation because he disagrees is a face plant. It’s pants-droppingly dumb.
Poll after poll shows that voters in Louisiana are adamantly opposed to raising taxes…unless they’re on cigarettes. Some 60-something percent of the electorate is fine with jacking taxes on cigarettes through the roof. Right or wrong, that’s a consensus. If you want to be politically relevant, you don’t poke a stick in the eye of a clear public consensus on an issue. You talk about something else, or you nibble at the edges of public opinion so as to whittle that consensus down to something you can beat.
In this case, going to war about cigarette taxes would have been best accomplished when the Democrats wanted to raise the tax by 70 cents a pack. That bill was bludgeoned to death, and even though it was likely a relatively popular bill TPOL did itself a favor by coming out against it and winning on the issue.
With this bill, it’s much harder to bring the majority of the folks over to TPOL’s position. Coming out so strongly here makes it seem like they don’t care about the budget – or health care, roads or higher education. And coming out so strongly over a bill to essentially keep taxes where they are invites hostile questions about why it’s OK for the state to raise costs on people who want to go to college but not people who smoke. Those questions are answerable, certainly, but when you’re in a position where you have to answer them you’ve lost the battle and you’re on defense. The idea that you’d pick this as your hill to die on is a real head-scratcher.
Worse, the disproportional and extreme step of calling for Tucker’s resignation is a massive unforced error. Tucker, for better or worse, has been fighting like hell to balance the state’s budget with spending cuts and not one-time money. The argument could certainly be made that Tucker is wrong on the question of coordinated care networks and whether the state would be better off to eat the transition costs to start those up and begin replacing the current Medicaid system, but the point is that Tucker’s budget work has forced a discussion of a real ratcheting down of Louisiana’s state government and whether he’s correct on each issue he has generally been an ally to the fiscal conservative position TPOL has staked out for itself. To all of a sudden say “Off with his head!” on an ultimately relatively minor issue is going to come off as childish and unhinged. And calling Tucker a tax-and-spend liberal is laughable; he might be many things, but that’s something he ain’t. Anybody who’s paid attention at the legislature this year knows Tucker has brought a meat cleaver to the state budget; liberals don’t do that.
TPOL should get credit for being willing to publicly take positions on issues in support of conservative principles. Sometimes when you do that you take a risk. You’ve got to think through not only how the issue impacts your principles but whether taking a strong position helps or hurts your cause. It doesn’t appear in this case that anybody at TPOL did that before they went off half-cocked and dumped on an ally.
Louisiana Democrats are getting a big kick out of this bungle tonight.