It wasn't pretty -- it never is -- but the just-ended legislative session once again produced a mixed bag for taxpayers and power players. Without further ado, here's our annual recap of "da winnas and da loozas," starting with ...
1. Fiscal Reform. Who'd a thought it? Nobody gave Rep. Vic Stelly's income tax plan a remote chance of passing. Then, when the wheels came off the governor's sales tax proposal, the Stelly Plan started looking better and better. It just proves how unpredictable legislative sessions can be. The proposed constitutional amendment substitutes state income taxes for regressive sales taxes, but it requires voter approval in November. That won't be easy. Voters rejected a similar plan several years ago, but this time the Stelly Plan is more or less revenue-neutral.
2. Gov. Mike Foster. He didn't get his revenue package exactly as he wanted it, but he got the money nonetheless. He wanted lawmakers to renew the "temporary" 4-cent sales tax for 10 years, with a complex phase-out scheme. The phase-out mechanism struck most lawmakers as too tenuous, and they balked. But, in the end, they extended 97.5 percent of the sales taxes (and threw in some others) to "plug the hole" in the state's $16 billion operating budget. Foster also beat back his old friends (and recent adversaries) at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) on reducing business taxes.
3. LSU and Tulane Medical Centers. State Rep. Mitch Landrieu authored a cigarette tax hike to pay for cancer centers in New Orleans and Shreveport. LSU and Tulane medical centers, which don't often work together harmoniously, will jointly operate the centers and lay a cornerstone for Louisiana's nascent biotechnology industry.
4. The Black Caucus. The Legislative Black Caucus voted almost unanimously against a late version of the sales tax renewal, sending the bill back to a conference committee for more tinkering. The final version made just one penny (instead of two) of the sales tax permanent, but the real significance of the change was the caucus' cohesive power play.
5. Firemen, Cops and State Police. They won enhanced retirement benefits by redirecting the proceeds of an existing insurance premium tax. These groups, particularly the firemen, have one of the best lobbying teams in the game.
Which brings us to ...
1. LABI. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is not supposed to lose with a Republican governor and a Republican Senate president, but LABI lost both its priority bills this year. One would have cut the corporate franchise tax by eliminating debt from the tax base; the other would have cut in half the sales tax on machinery. LABI may have gotten too big for its britches after pounding Foster's "single business tax" two years ago. Payback is a mother.
2. Poor People. By extending the "temporary" sales taxes two more years (and making one penny of it permanent), lawmakers in America's poorest state once again financed government services for poor folks by taxing poor folks the hardest.
3. Big Tobacco. I could easily add "smokers" to this list, but they already have cancer to worry about. The tobacco industry, generally a powerhouse, got hit for nearly $59 million in taxes to pay for cancer centers in New Orleans and Shreveport.
4. The Republican Caucus. Is there such a thing any more? GOP lawmakers were torn between their pro-tax leader, Gov. Foster, and their anti-tax philosophy (not to mention their constituents) on a number of occasions. As a result, Republicans split on most of the tax votes, rendering the "caucus" label meaningless.
5. Mike the Tiger. LSU's mascot was supposed to get better digs (and better handlers). But a Byzantine scheme to "hide" the appropriation was foiled, and the beloved Bengal is perhaps the session's biggest casualty.
Let's hope Alabama and Florida treat him better in the fall.