Buying Cigarettes
I came - I saw - I bought

Setting the wrong priorities

It is difficult to argue with the populist appeal of anti-tax rhetoric.

No one likes paying taxes, and most agree that government spending is out-of-pace with what our people need.

Still, taxes are a necessary part of living in a representative government, a system where people give the government its legitimacy and, of course, must also give it the money it spends.

The connection between taxing and spending, though, seems lost on some in Baton Rouge.

In the past week, Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed a bill extending a 4-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes. He claims that he will not sign a tax increase into law. Whether a tax renewal counts as a tax increase is a rhetorical question that is beside the point here.

The fact that the tax is just a tiny portion of the full price of a pack of cigarettes would have been an excellent reason to consider keeping it.

But what is most important is that in a time of financial uncertainty, the state will be losing millions in revenue that it is currently getting.

Although the Legislature passed the tax extension by a comfortable margin, the House was unable to muster enough votes to override Jindal's veto.

While the saga over the cigarette tax was playing out, a move was afoot in the state Legislature to do away with Louisiana's state income tax.

That tax, which generates billions in revenue each year, represents an integral part of the state's budget.

The bill's proponents, the people arguing that the tax should go away, presented no plan whatsoever for replacing that money in the budget.

Again, these efforts come at a time when Louisiana's government already faces shortfall between what it expects to take in this year and what it expects to spend. The budget hole is estimated at about $1.6 billion this year.

There is no extra money for repealing the state income tax, and even the removal of a portion of the cigarette tax should be accompanied by spending cuts to accommodate the loss on revenue.

Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, who proposed repealing the income tax, said it would be a way to attract people to Louisiana.

While that may be true, there are other important considerations, such as which state services would be cut to make up for the loss of the money - $2.7 billion in the case of the income tax.

Before state leaders even entertain the idea of cutting such a significant source of state revenue, they should identify exactly which services will be slashed in return. Because so many areas of the budget are protected in the state constitution, health care and higher education - places where we already lag behind much of the nation - are likely to be the targets.

That we simply cannot have.

Rhetoric about doing away with taxes is appealing in the same way it is nice to fantasize about not having to pay rent or a car note.

The real world, though, dictates that we step up and take care of our responsibilities, an avenue our legislators should pursue before indulging in daydreams about repealing the income tax.

Editorials represent the opinions of the newspaper, not of any individual.

Published: Sunday, June 19, 2011

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