The goal of tax reform should not just be to stop the bleeding – although that’s important. The goal should be to raise enough revenue to begin reinvesting in programs that can move Louisiana forward and provide families and businesses the stability they need as they plan for the future.
The recommendations from the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy are a solid starting point for creating a 21st Century tax system that puts Louisiana’s budget on a more stable and sustainable course. But state policymakers will need to go farther to make sure Louisiana has the revenue it needs to make important investments that lead to shared prosperity.
A preliminary analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that even if the Legislature agrees to the sales tax and income-tax changes recommended by the task force, Louisiana will still not have sufficient revenue to make the investments needed.
Louisiana faces a $1.5 billion “fiscal cliff” in 2018, when temporary taxes approved in 2015 and 2016 are due to expire. But the recommended sales and income-tax changes would fall short of filling that hole – let alone allow for the reinvestments in education, child care and public safety that are needed to improve our long-term prosperity.
Great communities are ones that have strong schools with good teachers from kindergarten through college, well-maintained streets, highly-trained police and a health care system that provides access for everyone.
The task force proposed eliminating the federal income-tax deduction, rolling back federal excess itemized deductions and narrowing income-tax brackets to earlier levels – all of which represent much-needed reforms to our broken tax code. Returning Louisiana’s state sales tax rate to 4 percent while broadening the base and unifying collections between state and local government represents sound tax policy.
Task force members should also be commended for preserving the Earned Income Tax Credit and School Readiness Tax Credits, which are critically important tools for working families, and for recommending important reforms to the way corporations are taxed in Louisiana.
Finally, it’s notable that the task force members did not recommend additional cuts to the budget. After spending hundreds of hours reviewing Louisiana’s budget and tax structure, they understood clearly that state programs have already been cut to the bone.
The budget cuts enacted since 2008 have been devastating to Louisiana families. The cost of a college education has skyrocketed, while money for scholarships has been cut. Funding for K-12 schools has failed to keep with rising costs, and child care assistance has been reduced by more than 60 percent.
When legislators return to Baton Rouge next April, their top priority should be to implement structural reforms that ensure long-term revenue stability and growth. Today’s recommendations represent a good down payment on reform, and the task force members deserve credit for the hard work it took to get to this point. But more is needed to put Louisiana’s budget back in the black.