Stelly touts tax plan to teachers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 11, 2000

VIDALIA, La. – State Rep. Vic Stelly was in Vidalia Tuesday to spell out to educators and Chamber of Commerce members his plan to revamp the tax system and use resulting revenues to raise educators and school workers’ salaries.

And although Stelly, R-Lake Charles, was quizzed on the finer points of what the media has dubbed the &uot;Stelly plan,&uot; the handful of educators who listened to the lawmaker’s speech that afternoon at Vidalia High expressed support for the plan.

After being denied raises in the past, many teachers distrust state government, said Vidalia High Principal Rick Brown. &uot;But this is our best shot at a raise, so we need to at least try — and then if this doesn’t work, we can try something else,&uot; he said.

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Two proposed constitutional amendments, bills Stelly sponsored in the spring session, would swap some sales taxes for income taxes in order to raise $202 million a year in taxes for raises. The measures will be included on the Nov. 7 ballot, and both must be passed for the changes to take effect Jan. 1.

Louisiana no longer gets as much tax revenue from oil and gas as it did in the petroleum industry’s heyday. Such money made up to 47 percent of the state’s general fund revenues in years past, but now only makes up 9 percent. Therefore, it is even more important to base the state budget on a source of revenue that grows as incomes grow — income taxes, rather than sales taxes, Stelly said.

And sales taxes are unfair in that poor people pay as much in such taxes as the rich, Stelly said. &uot;We’ve been balancing our budget on the backs of Louisiana’s poorest people,&uot;&160;he said.

Under the Stelly plan, the 4-cent tax on food and utilities would be eliminated. Louisiana taxpayers would no longer be allowed to deduct federal income tax paid.

Some other state deductions, including those for charitable contributions and mortgages, would also be eliminated, although they could still be deducted from federal taxes.

Also, tax brackets would range from $0 to $50,000 instead of the current $100,000, with a maximum rate for 5 percent instead of the current 6 percent.

Of the revenue from such changes, at least 80 percent would be used to raise salaries for teachers, college and university instructors and school support personnel.

Remaining funds could be appropriated by the Legislature for any educational purpose. Some uses suggested by those attending Stelly’s speeches on Tuesday included better reimbursement for college classes and school supply stipends.

But Stelly said that probably all of the revenues from the change would be devoted to salaries for the first three years of the change in order to bring salaries up to the Southern average.

Stelly said that is especially important in parishes that border other states, such as Concordia Parish and his home, Calcasieu Parish. This year, he said, 100 certified teachers have left Calcasieu schools to seek higher pay, signing bonuses and other perks in Texas.

&uot;I have an uncertified teacher teaching by granddaughter eighth-grade math, … and at the end of the year, she has to pass the LEAP test&uot; in order to advance to the ninth grade, Stelly said. &uot;What if she doesn’t pass?

&uot;Money won’t solve everything, … but we’ve at least got to give our teachers a living wage.&uot;

&uot;As it is, Louisiana is falling further behind,&uot; said Bob Crowley, executive director of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, who was at the Vidalia High meeting.

&uot;We’ve got to do something.&uot;

&uot;If don’t do this, there is no ‘plan B’,&uot; said Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, who introduced Stelly at both speeches and went over the plan’s main points with parish principals at a morning meeting.

Raises for educators and support personnel have made headlines this year. In early May, more than 5,000 educators and school support employees, including 200 from Concordia Parish, picketed on the State Capitol steps to gain pay raises.