LOCAL

Citizens pack Ways & Means Committee to oppose tax phase out bills

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Faith and community leaders packed the House Ways and Means committee meeting this morning, to oppose House Bill 271 and a host of other tax phase out bills. All bills were "deferred indefinitely," drawing a rousing applause from those present.

The effort was organized by Together Louisiana and the Faith Community of Louisiana, which together represent more than 400 religious congregations and community organizations across our state, with about 200,000 people.

"We're here today to testify on behalf of the number one rule of holes -- which is that when you're in one, you should stop digging," said the Right Reverend Charles E. Jenkins, Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.

"We believe that in the current context, with a $1.5 billion shortfall facing the state, the idea that our legislature would even contemplate eliminating 1/3rd of the state's revenue, without identifying an ethically responsible and predictable replacement for that revenue, is the height of fiscal irresponsibility," said Bishop Jenkins.

"The citizenry of Louisiana would stand happily UNITED behind tax reform that simplified the tax code, eliminated loopholes and actually increased revenue, to put our state on a more solid footing. Such reform speaks to the bedrock values of our people," Bishop Jenkins continued.

"We're delighted at today's result, and we hope these bills are dead for good," said Rev. Lee T. Wesley with Together Louisiana. "We want to remain vigilant and make sure no bills that deepen the fiscal hole we're in regain new life."

The full statement on behalf of Together Louisiana and the United Faith Community of Louisiana is below.

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Testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, April 15th, 2013

Bishop Charles E. Jenkins (retired), Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana

Chairman Robideaux, members of the committee, fellow Louisianians, we thank you for the opportunity to address you today.

I speak to you representing Together Louisiana and the United Faith Community of Louisiana, which together represent more than 400 religious congregations and community organizations across our state, with about 200,000 people.

Our member institutions cross the lines of faith tradition, race, economics, geography and political perspective. We're from north Louisiana and south Louisiana. We're black, white, rich, poor, and mostly in between. We're republicans, democrats and independents – fellow citizens who work together to develop a common voice around issues affecting our families in our beloved state.

We're here today to testify on behalf of the number one rule of holes -- which is that when you're in one, you should stop digging.

For several years running, our state has faced disastrous annual budget shortfalls, which seem to be growing larger by the year.

Over the last five years, you have cut $1.65 billion in state funding from higher education. That's 28.5% of all state funding, which amounts to the 2nd deepest cuts to higher education in the nation.

Tuition costs at our universities have increased 31.4% in the last year alone. They have increased by nearly 50% over the last few years.

Funding for Pre-K - 8 education has been flat for five years running. Because of inflation, that amounts to about a 13% cut to funding for our children's education over that time.

Between 2008 and 2012, our public hospital system faced cuts of 36% of its funding. In the current budget, funding for public hospitals is virtually eliminated -- a cut of some $780 million.

We are, in short, at the bottom of a scandalously large hole.

There are consequences to these kinds of cuts.

If recent history has taught us anything, it is that strong economies are not made of tax cuts alone. Strong economies require investments in people, in human capital, in education and healthcare. Strong economies require investments in infrastructure, so that the private sector can innovate and thrive. Without such investment, the environment becomes toxic to all, especially to those who would lead the way in building a bright future for all.

We believe that in this context, the idea that our legislature would even contemplate eliminating 1/3rd of the state's revenue, without identifying an ethically responsible and predictable replacement for that revenue, is the height of fiscal irresponsibility.

At a bare minimum, it would put a $24 billion hole in the state's budget, over 10 years, resulting in cuts to healthcare, education and other essential services that would be devastating to the poor, and to every man, woman and child in our state.

By many estimates, we face a $1.5 billion shortfall in this budget year. Why, in that context, are we even considering eliminating revenue sources without replacing them?

When you are in a hole, you should stop digging. You should not replace your shovel with a bulldozer and step on the gas.

We can support tax reform that simplifies our tax system and does away with exemptions and loopholes. The citizenry of Louisiana would unite behind that kind of tax reform.

The citizenry of Louisiana would stand happily UNITED behind tax reform that actually increased revenue, to put our state on a more solid footing. Such reform speaks to the bedrock values of our people.

But we all know that simplification and fiscal soundness are not what we're talking about with these proposals.

We're talking about truly irresponsible ideas devoid of ethical grounding that have become unmoored from the interests of our state and its citizens.

We oppose House Bills 271 and 640 and every bill before you that eliminates state revenue without replacing it.

We urge you to do the same.

Together Louisiana and the United Faith Community of Louisianarepresent more than 400 religious congregations and civic organizations throughout Louisiana, with more than 200,000 people. The coalition is made up hundreds of religious congregations and broad-based organizations in nine civil parishes throughout the state: The Jeremiah Group in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, Together Baton Rouge in East Baton Rouge Parish and Northern and Central Louisiana Interfaith, which has clusters in Bossier, Caddo, Ouachita, Madison, East Carroll and Rapides Parish.