Times are changing indeed
by Sam Hanna, Jr. - posted Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 @ 2:39 pm
It came as a bit of a surprise when the Senate got its feathers ruffled in light of more than 50 members of the House of Representatives signing a letter opposing a Senate bill that would result in a tax increase for some state income tax filers.
That's exactly what occurred, though, evidenced by the Senate's 29-9 vote to approve Senate Bill 335 by Lydia Jackson of Shreveport.
Masked as a revenue generator for higher education, which faces steep budget cuts heading into the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Jackson's SB 335 would retroactively reduce from 100 percent to 65 percent the amount tax filers could claim for excess itemized deductions. The deductions in question concern interest on mortgage payments, medical expenses and charitable contributions, including a little tithe for the church.
Last year, the Legislature agreed to raise the deduction limit from 65 percent to 100 percent of the aforementioned expenses. Jackson's bill sought to undo it while locking in the 65 percent rate for the next four years, beginning Jan. 1 of this year. She claimed her legislation would generate more than $100 million annually for higher education.
While the Senate probably thought it was sending the House a message, or showing it who's boss, by approving SB 335, Senate President Joel Chaisson could have done all of us a favor had he declared the bill unconstitutional. It's unconstitutional because all tax measures entertained by the Legislature must originate in the House of Representatives.
Jackson's bill is a Senate bill, meaning it was originally filed in the Senate. Thus, it's a no-no since it would raise taxes.
In the spirit of being completely honest, I missed it, too. I did not entertain the constitutionality of Jackson's bill until it was brought to my attention by an authority on constitutional law in Louisiana. So much for paying attention, or doing an adequate job in researching a bill before writing about it.
Be that it may, House Speaker Jim Tucker obviously was alerted to the constitutional problem Jackson's bill proposed, and he rectified it by refusing to assign SB 335 to a House committee for consideration. In other words, Jackson's bill is dead in its current form, though we should not dismiss the possibility that Jackson will entertain a parliamentary procedure to breathe life into her bill at some point in the future.
Yet, Tucker was right to shut down SB 335, which represents nothing but a tax increase on the backs of the people who make enough money each year to itemize on their state income tax returns. A tax is a tax regardless of how one may attempt to explain it or spin it.
At the very least, Brother Tucker probably can forget about being granted an honorary dental helper degree and/or the like from one of Louisiana's fine institutions of higher education, including one of those suped-up high schools (community colleges) such as Delta Community College in Monroe.
Something tells us, though, that Tucker could care less about being recognized as a savior for higher ed. After all, the higher education community has shown us it could care less where the money comes from or who has to fork it over for the state's colleges and universities to avoid cutting their expenditures. Those expenditures could include positions university presidents create to placate well-heeled alumni and members of the media who may be looking for another pay check for themselves or their spouses. The word compromised comes to mind, though "bought" could be more accurate.
Instead, Tucker deserves a Louisiana citizen of the week award, assuming one exists.
Gov. Bobby Jindal deserves to be recognized, too, for not giving an inch on any and all proposals to raise taxes to help offset a $219 million budget cut higher ed is expected to endure in the new fiscal year. Make do with less is what Jindal has been saying.
Jindal could be saying more, which he is, meaning the budget crunch higher ed faces today is a precursor to changes (consolidation) higher education in Louisiana will be forced to make in the near future.
Yes, the times are changing indeed.
Sam Hanna, Jr. is publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, and he serves in an editorial/management capacity with The Concordia Sentinel and The Franklin Sun, three newspapers owned and operated by the Hanna family. Hanna can be reached by calling (318) 805-8158 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.