Grover and the 'Guardrails'

Mar 12, 2015

At the state capitol, it seems like everybody is talking about Grover.

Grover Norquist

No, not Sesame Street’s Grover. They’re talking about Grover Norquist, the Washington, D.C. lobbyist and founder of ATR — Americans for Tax Reform.

State Sen. Robert Adley is not a fan.

“That ATR bunch we’re havin’ to live with? I just found out who they are,” Adley announced at a recent meeting.

Americans for Tax Reform solicits lawmakers and governors to sign the ATR pledge. State Sen. John Smith of Leesville is one legislator who has signed it.

“I don’t want more taxes, and will not vote for more taxes,” Smith says is basically what the pledge states.

Eight other Louisiana state senators plus 15 state representatives have made the no-tax pledge. More importantly, Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed it, and he expects the entire budget process to give allegiance to that pledge.

Of course, the administration doesn’t call it “the pledge”.

“Our guardrails are very clear,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told the House Appropriations committee. “We won’t raise taxes without an offset on a tax credit.”

Whether you call it “guardrails” or “the pledge”, many lawmakers trying to solve the $1.6-billion budget deficit are saying it’s clear as mud. What does ATR define as “more taxes”? Is a fee a tax? Can we increase the rate of a current tax, as long as we use those proceeds for a tax credit to refund higher fees?

State Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite says this is letting an outsider pull all the strings.

“We will contort ourselves here in Baton Rouge if we listen to people like Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform about how we should structure solutions here in Louisiana,” Edwards stated.

For example, LSU economist Jim Richardson just completed a comprehensive study of Louisiana’s tax structure. His proposed set of solutions has gotten a lukewarm response, primarily because he called those solutions “taxes”.

“I understand the governor’s taken a pledge not to raise any taxes, and he takes it very seriously. I appreciate that,” Richardson told lawmakers who expressed doubts about the solutions getting the ATR seal of approval. “I would suggest on a pledge like that there are other things you take seriously, too.”

Sen. Smith says there is one certainty to any acceptable solution.

“That will be a function of a non-tax.”