Reaction – essentially, none – by some to increasing both sales and gasoline taxes shows the level of partisan hypocrisy attached to policy specifically associated with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal but more generally imbued within Louisiana’s political left.
Earlier this week, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced a pair of bills by state Rep. Karen St. Germain, HB 778 that would hike the state sales tax one cent for 10 years, and HB 777 that would raise permanently the gasoline tax from 20 to 30 cents a gallon. The former barely drew a peep and passed out without objection, while the other got more discussion – more about specific projects than anything else – and was forwarded on a 7-3 vote. Both would be dedicated to infrastructure.
The massive silence about the merits of the sales tax increase in particular stands in sharp relief to events of a couple of years ago, when Jindal proposed a tax swap plan that basically would have eliminated income taxes with raising the sales tax 2.25 percent, knocking out many exemptions, and expanding that taxation to many services. The plan was revenue neutral at the start but its simplification aspects and making sales taxation broader while zeroing out income taxation promised to encourage economic growth that in the future would have made it revenue positive.
Yet the reaction of some then to it waxed apocalyptically. It was berated by the political left for being regressive in disproportionately affecting the poor, including the likes of the head of state Democrats state Sen. Karen Peterson, the leader of House Democrats, and current candidate for governor state Rep. John Bel Edwards, politically-active clergy, newspapers, unions, and limousine liberal commentators among others. In part, this prompted Jindal to abandon the idea and discouraged other legislators from continuing it. Keep in mind this was for a revenue-neutral plan that, with all of its complicated bells and whistles involved, would have meant few lower-individuals would have paid more in taxes.
A couple of years later, HB 778 is an unambiguous increase in sales taxes that disproportionately would impact the poor negatively with certainty one. However, not only did every single present Democrat vote for it (as did all Republicans) in committee, but also none of Peterson, Edwards, liberal clergy, the Baton Rouge Advocate editorial page, the AFL-CIO, nor the chattering classes have spoken out against this; in fact, they’ve been totally silent on this issue. And in an environment where other taxes as well may be going up also to fund the continuing operations of government, as opposed to this funding optional capital expenses.
So it seems the left goes ballistic when a Jindal-proposed plan might raise taxes on a few lower-income folk, but when the former leader of House Democrats proposes a definitive increase of taxes disproportionately negatively affecting the poor, we hear from liberals crickets chirping? It’s that familiar stench from the left you smell, hypocrisy.
And, no, that it’s for roads construction is a cop-out to try to explain away this inconsistent behavior. Instead of impacting negatively the poor with the sales tax increase, in HB 777 just double or triple up on the retail fuel taxes to accomplish the same. These would affect the actual users of roads – and not all of them state citizens. If there was any genuine empathy on the left for the poor, St. Germain would not have forwarded HB 778 at all and by doing so the left would condemn it.
Nor is the difference in amounts, 2.25 percent then and 1 percent now, an excuse to behave differently. If Jindal could get his idea gigged on just a fraction of the poor paying a little more, its worse to have all of the poor paying more.
Both bills are worrisome in that they expand the size of government as an excuse to compensate for past road-building decisions based more on politics than on genuine need (and even presently; do we really need to expand to four lanes 14 highway miles between two towns that combined have fewer than 10,000 people) and disregard alternative solutions such as toll roads and leasing. On principle conservatives should oppose these, but as liberals’ reaction of now compared to two years ago demonstrates, for them there’s involved no principle except that of extracting as much money as possible from the people as long as it grows government.