McHugh David: COVID-19 business legislation doesn’t have to be ‘all-or-nothing’

If at first you don’t success, try try again.

Don’t let a crisis go to waste.

Two statements that have, obviously, become the mantra of the business community and their representatives when trying to affect change on Louisiana’s business law.

The governor established a commission to oversee the reopening of the economy – things like best practices, industry-specific committees, and the kicker – legislative suggestions.

On Monday, leadership from the commission visited the Ways and Means Senate Committee (Read: Tax committee) to make suggestions on changes to state law in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus and the devastating effects it has wrought on the local economy.

Considering the size of the commission, and the length of their first two meetings, it came as some surprise that such a length and defined list had been prepared so efficiently.

That was, until, the list of proposals was read out loud.

See if any of this sounds familiar:

  • Singular sales tax base with a unified tax collector
  • Cutting business taxes and reducing regulation
  • Regular adjustments to the legal system to favor business
  • ITEP (property tax) program returns to state-level governance

For those who are saying ‘I’m not real sure’ or ‘sounds familiar, but can’t place it’ those are, quite simply, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) campaign talking points for the multitude of candidates they supported.

And experienced some high level success of affecting big turnover in the house and senate.

What’s interesting, however, is that some of these talking points have not had success in the regular progression of the legislature.

For instance, ITEP did not make it out of committee and will remain in local control – at least this year.

The singular sales tax base with a unified tax collector has also received lots of local pushback, especially from officials in Livingston Parish who believe that local tax collection is the best way to go to both understand a local economy, and make sure collections are complete.

An argument made was a service store in Maurepas would have an easier time avoiding a state-level sales tax collection – or fudging on it, anyway – as opposed to local sales tax collection, which is done through the school board.

And, quite frankly, these two really have nothing to do with disaster recovery in the present time.

Having a singular sales tax collection point, and unified sales taxes, doesn’t solve the problem of ‘now’ and is the reason this measure was still pushed away. It would also take time, money, and resources to set up a a more comprehensive department at the state level to make sure sales tax collection is done properly.

Responding to a disaster takes leniancy and agility, so replacing local breaucracy with state bureaucracy doesn’t add up.

Combined with ITEP, which is the same boat – pulling local revenues away from boards and removing local choice doesn’t make sense at present. Municipalities and government boards are going to be pressed for revenues, hoping for relief from the federal government.

How much pushback can be expected if ITEP decisions were returned to state control, which cared little for local opinion?

And again, this provided no agility or leniancy for business – the breauacracy is still there, just a different place.

Both of these measures were very clear, shameless attempts to get legislation passed in a time of crisis, but one must respect the effort – no good deed, and all that.

Plus, LABI is simply representing their interests.

The other two, however, have merit and are worth discussion – they give businesses latitude to try and get back on their feet in a time when every minute of every day, and every dollar of every transaction, counts.

For the adjustments to the legal system, the commission is calling for reductions in liabilities for businesses who may have workers exposed to COVID-19.

That’s fair, considering the announcement of sickness, post-diagnosis, rests directly on the shoulders of the employee. If others get it, it may not be the businesses fault – but you can’t let it go so far as to remove the business from liability. That’s when the excuses roll out, and employees who would otherwise not be ‘required’ to return to work, in most cases, will be in the future to protect the business’ real estate investment.

Removing taxes and reducing regulation is a no-brainer, at least during this time. If the state government gets a break on revenue shortages thanks to federal intervention, cutting some of the excess taxes – including inventory tax – would go a long way in helping businesses limp back to a pre-COVID world.

Especially in the oil industry, where still barrels of oil are either collecting dust or the companies are paying to have them taken.

At any rate, while these proposals are not all bad, or all good, it does show an attempt to worm in some legislation in a time of crisis.

But it doesn’t mean these all have to be rejected, sometimes pieces can be used for the benefit of all – it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing.’

J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.