Two of former Gov. Bobby Jindal's top aides are urging Louisiana lawmakers to support a partial sales tax renewal to patch budget holes, cautioning that "we simply cannot cut our way out of our budget problems."
Paul Rainwater, Jindal's chief of staff and top budget adviser, and Tim Barfield, who worked as the Republican governor's revenue secretary, chief lawyer and labor secretary, wrote a letter advocating for the tax in Thursday's edition of The Advocate. They support the state Senate's proposal to renew half of an expiring 1 percent sales tax, aligning themselves with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who also supports the plan.
The proposal would mean Louisiana sales taxes would drop from 5 percent to 4.5 percent on July 1, and thus avoid about $500 million in cuts to public safety, social services and education spending. Rainwater and Barfield call it "the best solution for our state in this moment."
The idea will be considered in a 10-day special session starting Monday.
"We've been cutting and slashing and treading water for years budget-wise in Louisiana. And while this proposal doesn't solve every problem our state has, it's a good start down the path and better than anything else being offered," the men wrote.
House Republican leaders favored a lower, 4.33 percent sales tax rate in a special session that ended without a sales tax deal this month. Some House Republicans now are floating a 4.4 percent rate as a compromise.
The newspaper letter didn't sway Rep. Jay Morris, a Monroe Republican who backs removing some tax breaks for big businesses rather than renewing sales taxes. He noted that both men advocate for companies or programs that depend on state spending.
Rainwater is a lobbyist who represents the University of Louisiana System and one of the state's safety-net hospitals. Barfield is president of a consulting firm that works on government projects.
"I consider both Tim and Paul as friends. But they and their clients/employers r paid from government money or get tax breaks," Morris tweeted.
When they worked for Jindal, Rainwater and Barfield were part of an administration that, backed by lawmakers, boosted tax breaks and cut across many state programs. Jindal refused to support taxes to close budget holes and instead raided savings accounts, sold property and tapped into other short-term fixes to pay for government operations.
Now, two years into Edwards' term, the ex-Jindal aides applauded Republicans who want to continue collecting half the expiring sales tax, which takes a larger share of income the poorer a person is.
"It is the fiscally responsible thing to do. But more important than that, it's the morally responsible thing to do," Rainwater and Barfield wrote. "It's time that we stop caring who wins a philosophical debate. Because if we let this tax expire, the people lose."