Republican state lawmakers in Louisiana and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist are in a war of words over the state’s terrible budget options, with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), a 2016 White House contender, stuck in the middle.
The state faces an enormous $1.6 billion budget shortfall, a reality Jindal blames on falling oil revenues. However, he is one of a number of GOP governors, many of them considering presidential runs, who have found themselves with budget crises due to their unwillingness to raise tax revenue. Jindal’s anti-tax orthodoxy has limited legislators’ options for balancing the state’s budget and means the state is facing the prospect of drastic cuts in key areas like higher education.
For months now legislators have accused Jindal of kowtowing to Norquist’s “no tax pledge,” which stipulates that taxes cannot be raised unless they’re offset by spending cuts elsewhere. And this weekend they’d had enough. A group of self-described “conservative” Republican state representatives took their complaints to Norquist himself, asking him to give them some wiggle room on raising taxes and to shoot down some Jindal-backed legislation that they say would set a “dangerous precedent” in how government could mask revenue hikes.
Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform, shot back Monday in a letter of his own, in which he okayed the proposal in question and called legislators’ inability to find cuts elsewhere “disconcerting.”
To close the huge budget gap, Jindal initially proposed a drastic $600 million in cuts to higher education and other major slashes to state programs, while legislators have been pushing for revenue increases elsewhere in the budget, such has hikes to cigarette taxes and rollbacks to certain tax credits. To offset such revenue increases, at least in theory, Jindal and some state Senate lawmakers are backing a proposal known as SAVE or Student Assessment for a Valuable Education, which would create a higher ed tax credit for a nonexistent student fee.
Sunday’s letter — signed by Louisiana House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Joel Robideaux (R) and 10 other state Republican representatives — asked Norquist to take into account the previous tax cuts Louisiana has passed in recent years and the effect they will have in the future when assessing whether the state is in compliance with the no tax pledge.
Furthermore it asked Norquist to weigh in on the so-called SAVE proposal, which they said would allow governments in the future to raise billions of dollars in revenue in the guise of a revenue-neutral budget.
“[I]t would be profoundly ironic for ATR to suddenly become, albeit unintentionally, the most liberal and dangerous tax policy organization in the United States,” they wrote.
However, Norquist refused to take the bait. While declining to come out for or against the tax credit proposal, he said it qualified as an offset and asked the lawmakers, “If you don’t like the SAVE Act, why not find other offsetting tax cuts that are more to your liking?”
Norquist also scoffed at the Republicans’ plea that their past tax cuts be taken into account, writing “[u]nder that logic, President Obama could argue he didn’t raise taxes.”
The Norquist letter went on to accuse the Louisiana government of “overspending for decades,” and said that while there had been progress in cutting spending in recent years, “it’s clear there is much work left to do.”
State lawmakers have until Thursday evening to approve of a budget, which Jindal would have until July 1, when the fiscal years goes into effect, to sign or veto, according to The Times-Picayune. Jindal is expected to announce whether he will run for president June 24.