La. faith leaders oppose tax plan

Clergy from denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention say a tax plan proposed by Louisiana’s governor would harm the poor.

By Bob Allen

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter is among nearly 250 Louisiana clergy signing an open letter opposing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to raise the state sales tax to 5.88 percent.

Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, is among names identified as the United Faith Community of Louisiana in an open letter voicing “deep concern” about the Republican governor’s tax proposal for the upcoming legislative session.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the planned increase in the sales tax would raise the current rate by about 47 percent and would come on top of local sales taxes. Residents in New Orleans, for example, would pay a combined rate of about 11 percent under the plan.

bobby jindalClergy members say Louisiana already has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation, putting a disproportionately high burden on low- and moderate-income families. The chief reason, they said in the letter, is the state’s heavy reliance on the sales tax.

“It is universally recognized that sales taxes create a disproportionate burden on poor and moderate-income families, who spend nearly all they earn,” the letter said.

“Louisiana already has the third-highest sales tax rate in the nation,” the letter continued. “We are concerned that your tax plan seeks to increase our state’s sales tax rates even further.”

The clergy leaders said increasing the sales tax would “deepen the root causes behind the unfair and regressive nature of our state’s tax structure and worsen the burden for poor and moderate-income families in our community.”

Further, they said, the additional burden on lower-income families is not to fund important needs but instead “to decrease the tax burden for those members of our community who are most blessed with wealth and resources.”

Clergy leaders called on Jindal to reframe tax reform in ways that “would be just and in accord with the ethical frameworks of our faith traditions.”

“Tax reform should not increase the sales tax rate or take any other steps that make our tax structure more regressive than it is already,” the clergy said. “New sources of revenue should be used not merely to redistribute the tax burden from one group to another, but to invest in high priorities for our state, such as health care, education, human services and infrastructure, which have seen significant and far-reaching cuts in recent years.”

The clergy leaders also expressed doubt that the governor’s proposed tax plan will be sustainable over the long term. Sales typically grow slower than personal income, meaning the state would be moving from a faster-growing revenue source to a slower one.

Jindal has been identified as a possible presidential candidate in 2016. A former U.S. congressman and aide to President George W. Bush, he was elected Louisiana governor in 2007.

Jindal was mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2008 before Republican candidate John McCain settled on Sarah Palin as his running mate. He delivered the GOP response to President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009, technically not a State of the Union address because Obama had just recently been inaugurated.

The son of parents who emigrated from India, Jindal was raised in a Hindu home but now is Roman Catholic. He credits a Southern Baptist preacher, Tommy French, pastor emeritus of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., with leading him to Christ.