Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fooling the people

When Abe Lincoln said the thing about how you can fool all of the people some of the time, he might have had the Louisiana legislature in mind. During the last session, not one of the solons voted against an ill-conceived bill that abolished most of the reforms adopted by voters in 2000.

Yes, we’re talking about the Stelly plan, which lowered sales taxes on food and prescription drugs in exchange for higher income tax rates on wealthier citizens. It was viewed at the time as a good step toward making our tax system fairer and reducing our dependence on petroleum revenues. But when it started to work as planned, the demagoguery began.

Last year, while we were flush with oil money and hurricane reconstruction funds, the anti-tax crowd bullied lawmakers into turning back the Stelly reforms. Now, with petroleum in the tank and reconstruction money almost exhausted, the state budget is facing a huge shortfall.

But at least the average citizen has more of his own money to spend, according to the zealots who frothed against Stelly. Said one, "I think taxpayers can rejoice. For once, we've done something about cutting taxes. This time, the people get it back."

Not so fast. As Gannett reporter Mike Hasten notes in this article
, the new tax structure does very little for most citizens. Joint filers with incomes of $50,000 or less get nothing back. For joint filers at $81,000, the payoff is $355. The maximum benefit of $1,000 doesn’t kick in for joint filers unless their income is $161,000 or more.

In return, we get bad roads, crumbling schools, a disappearing coastline, inadequate health care, polluted air and a moribund economy.

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