There’s a classic scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are sitting in a crowded deli arguing about whether a man can tell when a woman fakes an orgasm. Crystal insists he can tell — and that no woman ever faked it with him. To prove him wrong, Ryan begins a show-stopping sexual soliloquy that, well, climaxes with her screaming, “Yes! Yes! YESSS!” — and pounding the table with both hands. She then casually picks up her fork and smugly continues eating as a sheepish Crystal and a stunned deli full of gawkers look on.
At a nearby table, an older woman puts down her menu and says to her waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
I thought of that scene recently when I learned that Gov. Bobby Jindal had concluded that raising the state sales tax by 1.88 cents was not enough to cover the revenue that would be lost by eliminating the state income tax, as he proposes. The governor now wants to raise the sales tax by 2.25 cents — giving Louisiana a total state sales tax of 6.25 percent.
At first, I thought it was an early April Fool’s joke. It wasn’t.
Surely, I thought, the governor must be smoking some serious herb, which is legal now in some of the states he may have visited recently. His plan to give Louisiana the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the U.S. was already considered D.O.A. in the House of Representatives — and that was when he was “only” seeking to increase the state sales tax by 1.88 cents.
In just the two previous weeks, The Times-Picayune, Gambit, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), more than 250 prominent clergy members, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) and others had either blasted the governor’s proposal as unworkable or had come out full bore against it. PAR all but called Jindal's numbers "voodoo economics."
One veteran legislator, a prominent committee chairman, confided that he didn’t think Jindal could get 30 votes on the House floor for the sales tax — and that was before he upped the ante. The measure needs 70 votes (two-thirds of the House’s 105 members) to pass.
In the face of that kind of opposition, which is sure to grow now, what was Jindal thinking? Maybe the better question is, what was he smoking?
Things were bad enough when, on March 18, the governor’s tax-swap point man, Tim Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue, admitted that “business will be taking more of this [tax] burden” under Jindal’s plan. Barfield underscored that bad news several days later when he told LABI that business’ tax burden would go up about $400 million a year. A few more days later, he said it would actually go up about $500 million a year.
And that was when the proposed hike was 1.88 cents.
At that point LABI, which is arguably the state’s most powerful lobby on tax matters, issued a statement promising to oppose any plan that increased the tax burden on Louisiana businesses.
That should have been enough to give the governor pause. Instead, Jindal raised the stakes. Literally.
About the only thing he hasn’t done yet is scream, “Yes! Yes! YESSS!” — and start pounding the table.
No need to. I’ll have what he’s having.