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Senator proposes reinstating tax hikes

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The Louisiana Senate’s education chairman proposed temporarily reinstating the income tax hikes in the so-called “Stelly plan” in order to boost education funding.

State Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said Louisiana is “headed to disaster” if action is not taken to shore up state funds next year to pay for schools and colleges.

“The dismantling of higher education will become the coffin to bury Louisiana in for decades to come,” Nevers said during a Press Club of Baton Rouge luncheon Monday.

He said he will push to undo recent tax breaks — at least for a few years — that benefited the middle and upper class in hopes of offsetting state budget cuts to education.

“It’s probably not popular,” Nevers said, “but I’m a realist, and we can only do so much with the money we have.”

The Stelly tax swap — named after former legislator Vic Stelly of Lake Charles — decreased state sales taxes on some items while increasing state income taxes for some earners.

The swap was approved by the Legislature and voters in 2002.

The income tax increases were repealed in 2008 before the national recession took hold, but the sales tax cuts from the Stelly swap remain intact, leaving the state with about $300 million in fewer revenue dollars a year.

Nevers encouraged Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has maintained a no-tax increase platform, and other legislators to take the lead with him.

Jindal did not respond to interview requests Monday.

But his press secretary, Kyle Plotkin, said the governor opposes any tax hikes and added that Louisiana’s colleges need to perform better.

Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin said he supported delaying the Stelly tax repeal in 2008.

“We believe all options should be on the table,” Erwin said in a Monday interview. “The issues facing higher education are critical.”

CABL is a nonprofit lobbying group that gets involved in education and other state issues.

Nevers also supported delaying other tax breaks approved in recent years or to seek other new revenue sources.

About $280 million in state funds have been cut from higher education during the past two years because of declining state revenues. Another $290 million in federal stimulus dollars currently funding colleges are slated to run out next summer.

Such cuts would decimate the state’s education pipeline, Nevers said, arguing that Louisiana has welcomed mediocrity for far too long.

While noting inefficiencies of higher education and low graduation rates, Nevers said improvements have been made in recent years to trim the fat, expedite the transfers of community college students to universities and to eliminate duplicative academic programs.

Nevers emphasized that education is the most important source for Louisiana to boost economic development, to improve the health of its citizens and to fight poverty and crime rates.

“We have no time for counterproductive infighting or personal agendas,” Nevers said.

Written by demon53

October 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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