At a town hall meeting for Carrollton residents Thursday evening, state Rep. Neil Abramson was joined by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, filling in for state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson who was prevented by an emergency from attending. The most important issue facing the legislature this year will be Jindal’s tax swap — both on its own merits and because it will affect the funding streams of so many state programs, they said.So far, however, details are scarce, they said. Morrell said lawmakers were told they would receive the bill last week — a mere three weeks before the legislative session is to begin — but instead were given a “wish list” of taxes Jindal would like to cut and replace with sales tax.
“It was evident for those of us there at the time there was a loose understanding of how tax-revenue collection works,” Morrell said. “There was a lot of concern regarding the sales-tax emphasis hurting the poor, but there was really no coherent response how to address that.”
Abramson said he encourages people who call not to be too worried yet, because the governor’s office does not seem to have a plan, and the details keep changing. Abramson cited one type of tax originally set to be stricken from the bill, a tax on companies’ inventory. That tax funds a quarter of the annual budget for St. Charles Parish, he said, and Abramson thought that tax would be seen as so essential that the tax swap just couldn’t work at all.
Instead, the governor’s office has changed its mind and decided not to repeal the inventory tax, Abramson said.
“We don’t know exactly what it is or what it’s going to be, and it’s too early to guess,” Abramson said. “This is changing day-to-day and changing week-to-week. … As we work through the confusion, we don’t know exactly yet what we’re dealing with.”
“This issue is just so complex, when you talk about trying to remove this huge number from our budget, I don’t understand how you fix it,” Morrell said.
The vast reach of the tax proposal is also forging unusual alliances between New Orleans lawmakers and those who represent rural areas, Morrell and Abramson said. It is estimated that 40 percent of Louisianans do not pay any income tax at all because their income is too low, so for them, the “tax swap” is only a tax increase on the costs of food and other items, Morrell said — and large numbers of those people live in rural areas.
“It’s not just us; it’s everybody,” Abramson said.
In another major issue addressed Thursday night, Abramson’s name had been in the news for much of the day after he announced that the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital would be reopened by Children’s Hospital to serve children with mental illness, and Children’s Hospital issued a statement later in the day disputing that statement. Abramson did not address the Children’s Hospital statement directly, but reiterated that the lease Children’s Hospital has signed with the state for the NOAH property requires it to again offer mental-health services.
The discussion with about 30 Carrollton residents touched on other issues as well, including upcoming changes to solar-energy tax credits, the process for approving local security districts, funding for a community center in the Pigeontown area and cigarette taxes. To watch live video of the discussion with the lawmakers, see below.