Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sin tax…

Ed Anderson, of T-P’s Capital bureau reports on Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco’s intention to look into the possibility of increasing "sin taxes" on tobacco, liquor and gambling to generate as much as $120 million to provide teacher pay raises of $1,000 to $2,000.

"We are looking at what our options are," Blanco said. " 'Substantial' is a minimum of $1,000. We will do what we can afford. I'd like it to be a little bit more" than $1,000. She did not rule out a $2,000 pay raise, an amount the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has been pushing as a minimum. She said the administration also wants to consider stepped raises to bring teachers to the regional average in the next few years.

"We are internally debating exactly which taxes we might be asking for, which revenue sources we might be asking for, but we certainly are looking at a cigarette tax, and perhaps some gambling taxes adjusted, and perhaps even alcohol" tax increases, Blanco said. She said the administration is exploring taxing all gambling forms at the same level, instead of the staggered rates now in effect. Blanco did not say what the uniform level might be.

Blanco said teachers deserve a raise, despite a looming $400 million shortfall in the state health budget. "We still have a responsibility to provide additional revenues for our teachers," she said. Blanco is expected to push the pay raise plan at the legislative session that opens April 25.

State education department officials said the average teacher pay this year in Louisiana pubic schools is expected to be $38,700, compared with the projected regional average of $42,600. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said the national average is about $10,000 higher than in Louisiana.

Monaghan and Carol Davis, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said they are encouraged that Blanco is publicly talking about a teacher pay raise. "The governor is acknowledging there is a need for revenues," Davis said. "What is being discussed are the sin taxes. . . . This is a good place to start, but this is not the answer. . . . This is OK as step one."

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