Government & Politics

Economist: Jindal plan to raise sales taxes would hurt the poor

Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to take the dramatic step of abolishing the state income tax on individuals and corporations, offsetting the revenue loss by raising sales taxes by 3 percentage points.

That would push the total tax rate in New Orleans to 12 percent, raising concerns that his plan will shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor. Low-income people pay a higher proportion of their incomes in sales taxes.

“We’d merely be shuffling the way we pay taxes,” said James Richardson, a Louisiana State University professor. “Higher sales taxes would make the system more regressive.”

Jindal has said for weeks that he wants the Legislature to revise the state’s tax system, but in a way that didn’t yield additional revenue since that would amount to a tax increase.

Jindal outlined his plan on Wednesday to senior aides and legislators, The News-Star in Monroe reported Thursday morning. Later in the day, the governor’s office confirmed his plan to end personal and corporate income taxes.

“We want to keep the sales tax as low and flat as possible,” Jindal said in a statement.

Richardson said senior Jindal aides have said he is discussing raising the state’s 4 percent sales tax to 7 percent. New Orleans tacks on an additional 5 percent.

“We’d have a double-digit sales tax rate throughout the state,” said Richardson, who serves on the four-person state panel that determines how much tax revenue the state is collecting.

Jindal said that his proposal would benefit Louisiana’s economy.

“Eliminating personal income taxes will put more money back into the pockets of Louisiana families and will change a complex tax code into a more simple system that will make Louisiana more attractive to companies who want to invest here and create jobs,” the governor said in his statement.

Richardson expressed “serious doubts” about the plan. Besides its impact on the poor, it would give local governments less flexibility to raise extra revenue by increasing their sales taxes.

“People could buy more online,” Richardson added, and such purchases might not be subject to state sales taxes. “People would game it” to avoid sales taxes.

He noted that Jindal could try to get the Legislature to end exemptions for sales taxes as a way to limit the increase in the sales tax itself.

“But I don’t think they’ll touch the sales tax exemption on machinery and equipment” because that would be too politically difficult.

To abolish income taxes, “you have to find new sources of revenue,” Richardson said. “There are few places to turn. That’s the problem.”

Abolishing the state income tax on individuals and corporations would cost the state about $3 billion per year, Richardson said. Raising the sales tax by 3 percentage points would raise about $2.25 billion per year, he said.

It would take a simple majority in the House and the Senate to end the state income tax; ending sales tax exemptions would take a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Ending the state’s exemptions on groceries, prescription drugs and utilities would require the approval of the state’s voters, a much higher bar.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, applauded Jindal, in theory.

“The abolition of the income tax is an incredibly powerful tool for economic growth in Louisiana,” Appel said. “But we have to be able to evaluate the impact of the sales tax increase compared to the abolition to see that it’s a good idea.”

Would Jindal’s plan hit the poor harder? “That goes without saying,” Appel said.

Robert Travis Scott, who heads the Public Affairs Research Council, a think tank in Baton Rouge, called Jindal’s plan “an intoxicating idea. Now we have to see if it passes the sobriety test.”

Scott said the Jindal administration “fully recognizes that the proposal could have an impact on low-income people. They are working hard to keep this from being a burden on them.”

Added C.B. Forgotston, a state budget expert: “The devil, as always, is in the details.”

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
About Tyler Bridges

Tyler Bridges covers Louisiana politics and public policy for The Lens. He returned to New Orleans in 2012 after spending the previous year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where he studied digital journalism. Prior to that, he spent 13 years as a reporter for the Miami Herald, where he was twice a member of Pulitzer Prize-winning teams while covering state government, the city of Miami and national politics. He also was a foreign correspondent based in South America. Before the Herald, he covered politics for seven years at The Times-Picayune. He is the author of The Rise of David Duke (1994) and Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards (2001). He can be reached at (504) 810-6222.

  • Keith Twitchell

    One objective study after another, over a full century of research, has concluded that income taxes are the fairest and sales taxes are the most regressive. Of course, Gov. Jindal’s entire track record seems to be always to choose the most regressive policies and avoid the most progressive. If this proposal passes, he will have successfully finished the task of destroying Louisiana. Great platform on which to build a national campaign!

  • Jay Moore

    I am 100% behind Jindal, there should be no free rides. Everyone should pay something. We should all help pull the wagon. In the case of a higher sales tax it will force those folks that work for cash (to prevent paying taxes) to pay something towards the state services that everyone uses. It also makes the state more competitive in bringing jobs to Louisiana. Also the rich will still pay more because they buy more.