Voters Reject Tax Revision Plan
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Voters on Saturday rejected a plan to overhaul Louisiana’s tax system that had been heralded by Gov. Buddy Roemer as a chance to end the state’s lengthy recession.
″We won’t quit. That’s my final message to everybody out there tonight. It’s worth fighting for. Let’s keep fighting,″ Roemer said after the votes were counted.
With 3,181 of the state’s 3,285 precincts reporting, about 97 percent, the proposed constitutional amendment to authorize the Legislature to change the tax system was rejected 531,392, or 55 percent, to 432,483, or 45 percent.
About 45 percent of the state’s registered voters turned out, said Darrell Glasscock, a spokesman for the secretary of state.
The plan had been condemned by opponents as a huge tax hike.
Under Roemer’s package, the tax base would have been shifted by putting more of a load on individuals through the income tax, cutting sales taxes and giving businesses incentive to move to the state and expand.
The plan also included a $1.4 billion program to improve highways, airports and shipping ports that would be funded by a gasoline tax increase of 4 cents a gallon.
Defeat of the plan means the Legislature will have to cut more than $600 million from an already tight budget, which Roemer has said is impossible.
After conceding the plan had lost, Roemer said he would meet with legislative leaders to determine the next step for the budget. He said earlier that he would meet with Louisiana’s business leaders no matter what the outcome.
State Rep. David Duke, an outspoken critic of the plan, said, ″This is going to make a real change in Louisiana.″
Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader elected to the House in February on an anti-tax plank, said the state should reduce waste, tighten spending and make major changes in its social programs instead of revising its tax system.
″After fighting tremendous odds, after fighting tremendous money, after fighting tremendous political influence and power, finally, ladies and gentlemen, you did it again,″ Duke told supporters in his Metairie district.
Jefferson Parish Assessor Lawrence Chehardy, another opponent, said voters rejected the package because they did not believe that state government ″has its house in order.″
Chehardy said the vote had negative political implications for the governor. ″I certainly think up to this point it was a referendum on Buddy Roemer. The governor made it that way,″ Chehardy said.
Roemer pushed the plan in a blitz of radio and television spots financed by more than $1.2 million from backers. The governor touted it as a way to create jobs in a state that has the nation’s highest unemployment rate and to end Louisiana’s dependence on the oil industry.
Backers said the state puts too much of its tax burden on business, driving away potential new industries and forcing cutbacks and shutdowns among existing businesses.
But opponents said most of the tax breaks would be enjoyed by the state’s 1,000 largest corporations, many of which are not labor-intensive, and contended new jobs would not be created.
The plan would cost an extra $126 million over the current tax load. But opponents pointed out that as of July 1, the increase in the tax load would be $526 million.
The Legislature approved a one-year sales tax increase of $500 million last summer to avoid government bankruptcy. The increase, which was achieved by canceling longtime exemptions on purchases of food and utilities, expires July 1.
Roemer’s plan kept about $400 million of that tax on a permanent basis.