The need for proof that Gov. Bobby Jindal jigs to the most extreme time signature of the his party’s anti-tax ensemble long ago ended, at least as the governor would have it. But to remind us great unwashed that it’s all a dog and pony show designed to buttress his national ambitions, Jindal recently displayed a dollop of fiscal sanity in vetoing on Friday Senate Bill 21, which would have exempted bottled water — carbonated water, flavored water, mineral water, vitamin water and plain, old water water, which is commonly tapped from the municipal water supplies of other cities — from the state sales and use tax.
In his veto message of the bill by state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, Jindal notes that the “exemption would result in a state revenue loss of $8.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year, and a total state revenue loss of $52.7 million over the next five years. Water delivered to the home through pipes is already exempt from sales tax. I am concerned this could cause our budget for the upcoming year to be out of balance.”
Bravo, governor. With apologies to our friends in Broussard’s Shenandoah Estates, where “crap from the tap” is a daily affair, Riser’s legislation was ill-conceived, not just from a state revenue perspective: Bottled water is one of the most environmentally destructive products in the marketplace. Exempting it from the state sales and use tax — essentially encouraging its consumption and the attendant spike in virtually indestructible plastic bottles going into landfills, not to mention (but I will) the increased rise in greenhouse gas emissions from transporting a commodity that in most communities is nearly free and proven safe from the tap — is a bad idea that deserved Jindal’s veto.
But square the governor’s sensible, post-session veto of Riser’s bill with his in-session veto of House Bill 591 by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa. HB 591 reauthorized a 4-cent state cigarette tax, and Jindal made much ado about a tax renewal being, in his opinion, a tax hike. Ritchie pulled a brilliant parliamentary move after the House chickened out of overriding Jindal’s veto by attaching it to an unrelated senate bill, but Jindal’s grandstanding was widely derided among both parties and in newspaper editorial pages, although it undoubtedly endeared him to the no-nothing element of his GOP base.
That 4-cent cigarette tax generates $12 million annually — almost 50 percent more than the bottled water tax the governor elected to maintain with his veto pen. What’s more, the cigarette tax was earmarked for health care. As the governor emphasizes in his veto message for SB 21, “It is important that we protect scarce resources for priorities like health care and higher education.”
Jindal’s taxation schizophrenia came to our attention via dark horse gubernatorial candidate Tara Hollis, a north Louisiana Democrat, who called it “messed up,” among other things, in a press release issued Sunday.
Considering the two vetoes together, it’s hard to make a case that our governor is a model of consistency: By vetoing Ritchie’s bill, had he been successful, the governor would have lowered the price of a pack of cigarettes. By vetoing Riser’s bill, the governor maintains the tax on bottled water. Put another way, on the one hand he used his veto to lower a tax; on the other he used his veto to prevent the lowering of a tax.
Could it be that vetoing Ritchie’s bill during the session got a lot of press and helped burnish Jindal’s anti-tax bona fides, while vetoing Riser’s bill post-session — one among 14 vetoes the governor issued on Thursday and Friday of last week — flew beneath the radar? Or is it simply safe to assume in terms of the Louisiana governor's office the cigarette lobby is bigger than the bottled water lobby?