So now Bobby Jindal favors a cigarette tax hike. Of course, he won’t spin it that way, but there’s no denying he offered lawmakers that option last week as part of his plan to cover the state’s projected $1.6 billion revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Problem is, the cigarette tax as proposed by Jindal won’t actually help offset even a small part of the state’s monumental deficit. Jindal wants to tie the cigarette tax to a new tax credit, which he proposes as an offset to his newest round of college "fee" hikes, which he proposes as an offset to another round of draconian cuts to higher education.
Jindal's cigarette tax and his proposed "excellence fee" are nothing more than a ruse to obscure the fact that he proposes to cut direct state funding to higher ed even more this year — by more than $560 million, pushing his total cuts in direct state aid to higher ed well beyond $1 billion since he took office. If lawmakers pass his ironically named "excellence fee" (no one still thinks our public universities are anywhere near "excellent" after seven years of oppressive cuts under Jindal) and the accompanying tax credit — and if they tie the cigarette tax hike to that tax credit — higher ed would still face $211 million in cuts next year. That would still wreak havoc on all the state's college campuses.
In Jindal's logic, and that of Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform organization, the governor's proposed financing scheme produces “revenue neutrality” and, more importantly, it allegedly preserves Jindal's precious “tax virginity” as he prepares to run for president in 2016. No one else seems to follow that logic, however. After Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols presented Jindal's budget, Republican state Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria, a leading conservative, pointedly said, "I want to get a good definition today of what your administration says a tax is."
And try telling smokers the governor's plan does not include a tax hike, because it will sure feel like one to them.
I guess if the governor can flip-flop on Common Core, doing an about-face on the cigarette tax is no biggie. (He vetoed the renewal of an existing 4-cents-a-pack cigarette tax in 2011.)
In fact, denying that he now supports a tax increase isn’t even the biggest lie that Jindal has told lately (and he’s told some whoppers). No, his biggest lie is his ongoing meme that Louisiana’s fiscal crisis (which he led the way in creating) is “largely” the result of a precipitous drop in oil prices. Team Jindal repeated that one last Friday in presenting his proposed budget, attributing nearly a third of the $1.6 billion deficit to declining oil prices.
There’s no getting around it: he’s lying about that.
The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) connected the dots last week in the February edition of its newsletter, “Focus on the Fisc.” In that newsletter, LFO chief economist Greg Albrecht wrote the following: “[T]he bulk of the projected funding shortfall for the FY 16 budget is not related to oil prices.” He then underlined his next sentence: “The FY 16 funding shortfall was projected at nearly $1.2 billion before any oil price revisions were considered.”
(Some say the deficit was actually $1.4 billion before the price of oil collapsed. Either way, Jindal’s claim that the deficit is “largely” the result of falling oil prices is a lie.)
Albrecht then noted what Jindal wishes we would all forget: “Nearly $1 billion of that shortfall is associated with the use of ad hoc resources supporting the current FY 15 budget that will have to be replaced for the FY 16 budget. In addition, current FY 15 shortfalls have been financed, in large part, with additional ad hoc resources that add to the funding shortfall for FY16. The drop in mineral revenue projections has exacerbated the FY16 funding shortfall, comprising about 25% of that shortfall.”
Nobody, not even Jindal’s few remaining supporters, should let him off the hook on this one. The more he lies about the cause of Louisiana’s fiscal nightmare, the louder we should all shout, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”
The truth is undeniable: Bobby Jindal and state lawmakers who supported his budget proposals spent nearly $1 billion in one-time money to balance the current year’s budget, leaving a hole of at least $1.2 billion for the next fiscal year. This didn’t happen overnight. Jindal blew through Kathleen Blanco’s $1.1 billion surplus in 2008, and he has increasingly used one-time money to balance the budget since 2009.
Times are so desperate now, Jindal has finally suggested a tax increase — but don’t expect him to tell the truth about that.