Home Opinion Opinion: Sam Hanna, Jr. – ‘Super-rich’ must be punished

Opinion: Sam Hanna, Jr. – ‘Super-rich’ must be punished

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‘Super-rich’ must be punished

By the time the Legislature wrapped up its second special session of the year last Thursday, lawmakers had approved more then $1.5 billion in new taxes this year alone.

The first $1.2 billion was courtesy of a special session in February. It came to us thanks to a spike in the state sales tax and removing exemptions and exclusions on existing sales taxes paid by your run-of-the-mill consumer as well as the business community. In the special session that concludes this week, lawmakers, on Tuesday, appeared to be en route to signing off on another $325 million in new taxes. This round of tax hikes was ginned up by tinkering with taxes paid by businesses, a new tax on health insurance and so on.

Efforts to raise personal income taxes through the guise of rolling back the percentage of excess itemized deductions income tax payers can claim on their state returns fell on deaf ears. The proposal would have hit tax filers, including joint filers, who earn in excess $100,000 annually the hardest.

Not long after the House of Representatives shot down Rep. Malinda White’s bill to limit deductions, a northern Louisiana lawmaker offered the most misguided and uninformed statement of the decade thus far.

“They voted to protect the interests of the super-rich,” said Rep. Gene Reynolds, referring to Republicans in the House who voted en masse against White’s legislation.
Though it probably cost a little less to live in Reynolds’ hometown of Minden than say, Baton Rouge, a couple that earns $100,000 a year is far from “super-rich.” Decidedly middle class and pinching pennies to make ends meet would be a more apt description.

Reynolds’ take on earnings and taxes, however, is openly shared by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, which, without a doubt, has manipulated the public and a host of lawmakers into believing that state funding for some health care services and the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) would die on the vine unless the Legislature gave the governor what he wanted and when he wanted it. The “what” at the beginning of the year was no less than $2 billion in new taxes to offset a budget deficit Edwards claimed was left behind by former Gov. Bobby Jindal as well as to fully fund the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The deficit certainly was in excess of $2 billion if we count the $2 billion in new spending the Edwards administration tacked onto the budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, or the fiscal year that begins in a little more than a week. But that’s a matter, or a figure, that’s accurate in the eyes of the beholder who weighs wants versus needs versus
available dollars to pay for all of it.
And to pay for it all, the Edwards administration is counting some $350 million in revenues realized by tax hikes approved by Legislature last year though those dollars and cents have yet to be recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference. Two weeks ago, few lawmakers and few administration officials would even acknowledge the money existed. Now the administration says the $350 million was included in the state’s revenue projection all along for the new fiscal year.

Make no mistake, Edwards, a tried and true Democrat, hasn’t hidden his true colors since taking office in January. His budget is heavily weighted toward more spending on social services and the like. The business community and the so-called rich are expected to pay for it, including those working stiffs who scratch out a household income of $100,000 per year, regardless of the number of jobs they’re holding down to make it.

Though he may not realize it, Edwards’ behavior and the actions taken by his administration have created a credibility problem for the new governor. At each turn whenever discussion turned to taxes, Edwards said the new revenues were necessary to save TOPS. To save health care. To save, you name it. And each time the Legislature bowed to the governor’s wishes and raised taxes, Edwards said it wasn’t enough to save TOPS. To save health care. To save, you name it.

At the onset of the special session that concludes this week, Edwards said lawmakers needed to raise some $600 million in taxes to balance the budget for the new fiscal year including fully funding the popular college scholarship program known as TOPS. Obviously, lawmakers didn’t meet the governor’s demands. Accordingly, budget cuts are forthcoming. TOPS is at the top of the list.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any parent of a college-age kid when the word comes from on high that TOPS will be scaled back and eventually done away with forever. After all, the majority of the kids who qualify for TOPS hail from those same “super-rich” households where momma and daddy, together, earn about $100,000 a year.

And if the “super rich” don’t want to pay any new taxes, they must be punished. At least that’s how Edwards obviously sees it.

Sam Hanna is a state
political writer.