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Jindal ally says tax plan faces hurdles to passage

Rep. Joel Robideaux (photo from house.louisiana.gov) Rep. Joel Robideaux (photo from house.louisiana.gov)
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The lawmaker sponsoring Gov. Bobby Jindal's tax rewrite proposal said Monday that while the plan faces strong opposition, it's not doomed to failure as the legislative session begins next week.

"If the governor's pushing something, it's never dead on arrival," said Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"I'm not arguing that there's not hurdles and there's not a lot of fixes that need to be made, but when the governor is pushing a concept, then that concept has a chance," he told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, in advance of the two-month session that begins April 8.

Opposition to Jindal's tax overhaul has come from Democrats, the state's largest business lobbying group and religious leaders. Meanwhile, Republicans have been largely silent, not expressing opposition but also not offering endorsements of the revamp either.

Key pieces of the tax package would require two-thirds support from the House and Senate to pass, a high bar to reach for such a controversial plan.

Jindal wants to eliminate state income taxes for individuals and businesses.

To offset the loss of $3 billion and keep the tax proposal "revenue neutral," the Republican governor wants to raise sales taxes, charge sales taxes on previously untaxed services, boost tobacco taxes and remove dozens of tax breaks.

A group of 300 religious leaders from around the state criticize the tax overhaul as unfair to poor and moderate-income families, saying sales taxes would eat into a larger share of their income than the incomes of the wealthy.

The powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry opposes the governor's tax swap as overly burdensome to business because the Jindal administration estimates it would shift $500 million in tax costs from individuals to companies. Robideaux described LABI's opposition as a "big hurdle" to passage.

Robideaux said opponents have been "front and center" so far. He said if constituents in lawmakers' districts come out in support of the governor's tax package, that would sway legislators, and he said he's starting to get an uptick in calls to his office from people backing the tax revamp.

Jindal, who has hit the road to tout his plan in speeches around Louisiana, said sales taxes provide a more stable and predictable source of revenue for the state. He said they also offer people and businesses the ability to choose how and when they want to pay taxes because they can determine which goods and services they buy.

Robideaux's committee will have the first decision on whether to advance the governor's bills and in what form. He didn't provide a timeline Monday on when the panel would vote on the nine House bills in Jindal's tax package.

"I don't feel a rush to have it heard if there are still questions out there," Robideaux said.

Instead, he said lawmakers will first want to hear from the Legislative Fiscal Office, the nonpartisan financial analysts who work for the Legislature.

He said the fiscal office analysis will determine whether lawmakers consider the tax package revenue neutral, not the review provided by the outside accounting firm hired by the Jindal administration.

In past sessions, the administration has disagreed with fiscal office analysis for economic development bills and retirement proposals and presented competing data for lawmakers to consider.

"I'm not going to say it's revenue neutral until I've gotten the numbers from the fiscal office," Robideaux said.

While uncertainty continues over the fate of the tax restructuring, Robideaux said he was certain the income tax repeal won't pass without an offset for the lost revenue. He said the bills will be structured so they are all tied together and can't take effect unless all pass.

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