While there was plenty of grumbling about Neil Abramson’s selection to chair House Ways and Means, the real force in the committee has turned out to be its Vice Chair, Julie Stokes.
“So, how do I know if this is an oil tanking sort of issue – you know, with the price of oil going down – or if this is, ‘Boy, Louisiana just spit out some crazy tax policy’?” asks Stokes, a Republican from Kenner.
Stokes is a CPA, a background that has made her the go-to source for explaining complicated issues in the tax committee. “I see a lot of knitted brows," she says during a House Ways and Means meeting. "I’m looking around and there looks like a lot of confusion.”
Stokes is able to explain the nitty-gritty of how raising revenue affects an individual. “A great portion of your excess itemized deductions are the deduction for your state income tax," explains Stokes, "so you are being allowed to deduct your state income taxes against your state income tax, which makes no sense.”
She’s also concerned with the broader picture of Louisiana’s tax policy and it's affect on business. "One of the main indicators businesses look to when they decide where to move their company is the Tax Foundation rankings. Right now, we’re ranked rather unfavorably at 35th place. A lot of that is because of our sales tax, where we enjoy a 50th place ranking. I dare say, if they could make 60th, if they could give us a bump down, they probably would," says Stokes.
It’s that sense of humor that often diffuses tense discussion. “
Dare I say, if we followed the national trends, we wouldn’t be the lowest taxed state in the United States and we probably might not be broke either,” she says.
This is just the start of Stokes’ second term in the Legislature. Look for her to continue to move up in House leadership.