Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal proposed the single largest, one-time tax increase in Louisiana history, an across-the-board 3% increase in state sales taxes. If approved and passed into law, Louisiana would have the highest combined sales tax rate in the United States, an average of at least 11.84% (an aggregate that includes both state and local sales taxes). Currently, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, Louisiana, at 8.84%, already has the third highest average sales tax rate in the country.
According to Forbes, only four other municipalities, all of which are located in Arizona, have higher rates. In fifth place, the small town of Central, Louisiana, a suburb of Baton Rouge. Central’s sales tax is a whopping 11.5%, and under Jindal’s plan, Central’s sales tax would grow to 14.5%, which would earn it the dubious distinction of having the highest sales tax rate of any municipality in the entire country, nearly an entire percentage point higher than the nation’s reigning champion, Tuba City, Arizona.
Governor Jindal is proposing this massive tax hike in order to subsidize his plan to eliminate the state personal income and corporate taxes. By law, Louisiana’s budget must be balanced every year, and because the state personal income and corporate taxes generate around $3 billion annually, Governor Jindal must find a feasible way to recoup that potentially lost revenue with either another source of funding or draconian spending cuts. Jindal, while touting his plan as a boon to small businesses and Louisiana “workers,” believes he can make up that gap by increasing state sales tax rates from 4% to 7%. According to The Times-Picayune, Louisiana generated approximately $2.6 billion in revenue in sales taxes, which means that even a dramatic 3% across-the-board increase couldn’t completely cover the revenue lost through the elimination of personal income and corporate taxes.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve never shied away from criticizing Governor Bobby Jindal. To put it nicely, I think he is an intellectually dishonest charlatan whose entire life has been defined by an almost embarrassing public desire for validation among the white conservative aristocracy. As a child, he rejected his given name and demanded that his parents call him “Bobby” after the little boy on The Brady Bunch, a story that his supporters repeat as if it reveals some sort of precocious sophistication and nuance. Maybe it does. But, to me, it also reveals how, even at a very early age, Bobby Jindal was conflicted about his own identity as the son of two Indian graduate students who immigrated to the United States, a man who was conceived in India but who has spent almost the entirety of his public life distancing himself from his family’s culture, their religion, and his Indian heritage. As a college student, Jindal converted from Hinduism to Catholicism, a journey that he describes as both intellectual and spiritual, but one that also, particularly in hindsight, seems almost hyperbolically cynical and calculated. And here, perhaps I’m the one being cynical, but I’ve never believed his “conversion story.” I’ve never once believed that Bobby Jindal, an allegedly brilliant kid majoring in biology in an Ivy League school, actually participated in a real life exorcism. His story is non-sensical and absurd, unwittingly and pathetically bordering on the comedic; it is almost certainly a work of complete fiction. But in telling it, however awkwardly, in publishing it in a relatively well-known Catholic journal, Jindal asserted himself publicly not only as a Catholic but as a Catholic whose faith was built on a mystical experience, a direct confrontation with the devil himself.
When he was only 24 years old, as his own legend has it, he became Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals based on the strength of a single white paper he’d written, which led some to begin calling him “The Boy Wonder,” and which led more level-headed people to question the judgment of his boss, Governor Mike Foster. The truth, of course, is that Jindal’s service at DHH was short-lived and an abysmal failure, which somehow qualified him to head the entire University of Louisiana system. Before Louisiana could blink, Jindal, only 31 years old, ran for Governor. When he lost to an imminently more qualified candidate, a candidate who made history in her own right, becoming the first woman ever elected Governor, Jindal’s team seemed to blame his defeat on his ethnicity, not his youth and inexperience, not on his track record as DHH Secretary.
It’d be easy enough for people to suggest that my skepticism and my cynicism of Bobby Jindal is really about identity politics, as if merely bringing up the ways in which he has attempted to downplay his Indian heritage and his consciously self-promotional conversion to Catholicism somehow demonstrates my own biases. But, to me, such an argument is and has always been a way of avoiding a series of important questions that have rarely, if ever, been asked of the man Louisiana has twice-elected as their Governor, the most important of which is: What does this guy really believe?
During his tenure as Governor, Bobby Jindal has pumped hundreds of millions to incentivize, subsidize, and entice wealthy multi-national companies to hire a few hundred employees for less than the national median income, and he’s touted these failures as successes. He’s repealed a state income tax plan that had actually been adopted through a statewide referendum, senselessly costing Louisiana hundreds of millions more in lost revenue. He’s squandered millions more on a brain-dead project to “safeguard” the Louisiana coastline from the BP oil spill by building “sand berms” that in many cases disappeared within only a few hours after their construction. He’s turned Louisiana into a laughingstock among scientists and academics and no less than 78 Nobel laureates by promoting and then signing into law a bill that allows science teachers to teach New Earth Creationism as an alternative theory to evolution. Remember, this man majored in Biology at Brown.
Bobby Jindal was never the “Boy Wonder;” Bobby Jindal is the “Good Ol’ Boy Wonder.” He sauntered into office pretending as if he was a disinfectant against corruption and nepotism, and instead, he has used his time as Governor and the responsibilities and powers entrusted to him by the people of Louisiana kowtowing to the wealthiest and most selfish cabal of so-called “business leaders” in the State’s history. He’s selling state prisons to the highest corporate bidder. He’s dismantling a once-robust system of charity hospitals, clinics, and programs. He’s gutted higher education funding, and he plans on doing the same to our primary and secondary schools.
He is, without any question, the single worst Governor in contemporary Louisiana history, and in lightning fast time, Bobby Jindal has destroyed institutions, services, and programs that had taken generations for us to build, shuffling our tax dollars from those most in need to those who have the most, lining the pockets of his campaign contributors with public money while disingenuously lecturing the State about the need for austerity. Louisiana remains at the bottom of all of those “bad lists” that Jindal once liked to talk about, and because of Jindal’s personal political ambitions, he’s refused billions in federal aid and grant money. He thinks he’s sending a message to Washington and President Obama about how smart he is; he’s actually just telling the country that he’s an incompetent political hack who cares more about serving his financiers than his constituents.
This all may sound too biting, too personal. But, yes, it is personal: Louisiana is my home state. As his newest proposal should forcefully demonstrate to anyone in Louisiana with a working brain, it should be clear, Governor Bobby Jindal doesn’t give a damn about the overwhelming majority of Louisianans. He’s hoping that we’re all too stupid to realize that eliminating taxes for corporations and eliminating the state’s personal income tax may sound awesome, but in a state as poor as Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, it merely shifts the tax burden to those who can least afford it. Over 39% of Louisianans don’t even make enough money to qualify to pay income taxes, and the overwhelming majority of those who do qualify don’t pay much.
If you care about Louisiana, you should be sickened and insulted by Jindal’s proposal. It’s cronyism at its worst, a sure-fire formula to establish a banana republic.
There is one other thing that Jindal’s proposal would guarantee: By raising the state sales tax by 3% to help ensure his cronies no longer have to pay any taxes, Governor Jindal is also ensuring that local and parish governments and school boards will be practically paralyzed from passing ballot initiatives that finance things like new roads and police stations and school buildings, the essential building blocks of a community that make it sustainable and attractive for new businesses. In Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, where citizens pay the highest sales tax in the entire country, a usually banal temporary half-cent sales tax measure to pay for essential infrastructure suddenly becomes much more burdensome.