The repeal of the Stelly Plan that removed certain sales taxes on food and other items and created a more balanced income tax structure is causing a much-predicted crisis in Louisiana. We are facing the worst funding shortage in memory. And cuts announced this week to higher education are going to devastate our universities.
When the Stelly Plan, which voters approved, was ceremoniously repealed, we ended up with two tax cuts. And these cuts are not stimulating our economy, they are causing layoffs, higher tuition and myriad problems that will harm the reputation of Louisiana and that threaten our economic future.
When the Stelly Plan was repealed, we didn’t return to the status quo–we just gave a tax cut to the upper brackets and didn’t replace the funds from the removal of the sales taxes.
Stelly was a fair plan. The sales taxes that hurt poor and middle class residents were lightened and we all paid a few dollars more (at least those of us at average income levels, in my case it added less than $100) in income tax. It worked. Now we’re in a pickle. And it’s not even because of some lousy Friedman-esque economic theory–it’s because of political grandstanding and misrepresentation of how taxes work.
Those who want Louisiana to prosper, to have a solid education system, to have better roads, safe and secure drinking water, fair and honest police, fire and emergency service systems, courts that dispense justice and are able to put people in facilities that securely and effectively incarcerate without breeding more crime (or being complete hellholes where you may die within hours whether guilty or not) must pay for these things. That’s what taxes are for. And with federal prosecutors hot on the tails of corruption (thanks in no small way to the fact that all contracts now end up on computers and leave multiple electronic trails), things ARE changing for the better.
But we have to demand vision and leadership from our elected officials, not platitudes and phony political philosophy. And we have to do our parts to participate, to go to meetings, to be watchdogs, to volunteer to help our city halls and parish services, and to vote.
These problems are not going to be solved by name-calling rallies or by shouting down political discourse when our elected officials have public meetings or by calling fellow citizens socialists because we disagree with them. Democracy is hard work. And we in New Orleans have gotten better at it than most of the country. But now we need the rest of Louisiana, the average citizens (not just business and political leaders), to get on the ball and participate.
It took a massive (and man-made) disaster to make us in NOLA get involved. Is that what it’s going to take for the rest of the state to get with it?