Louisiana's Huey Long believed in sharing the wealth, and up to a point that's fine with his son Russell, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
But Sen. John C. Danforth wants Louisiana and other oil-producing states to share their energy wealth with the rest of the country. That's not fine at all with the Kingfish's son.
And, to put it mildly, the freshman Republican senator from Missouri is giving the powerful Democratic committee chairman from Louisiana a bad case of political fits.
"If Missouri succeeds in taxing Louisiana, I'll get back at Missouri," Long shouted at Danforth on the floor late Friday when oil-state senators sought to bring the issue to a head.
Missouri got into the Union on the strength of the Louisiana Purchase because the other states, "had to take you in order to get us," Long went on, and it takes some nerve to repay the favor by trying to tap Louisiana's oil royalties. It's a "beggar-thy-neighbor" ploy, he charged.
Danforth wants to apply the proposed "windfall profits" tax to royalty income that state and local governments obtain from leasing oil-drilling rights on lands they own.
This would trim the booty that the eight major oil-producing states expect to receive from oil price decontrol, spreading it more evenly over all 50 states.
For oil-producing states, royalties already amount to a tidy sum: $650 million in 1978.
As decontrol leads to higher prices, royalties would skyrocket, producing an extra $33 billion for state and local governments over the next decade, according to Danforth's figures. Including state taxes on oil production, the total state take would be about $128 billion by 1990 -- not much less than the $138 billion the Finance Committee bill would capture for the federal government.
Danforth's proposal would cut the state and local gain to $117.5 billion, by taking $10.5 billion in royalty revenues for the federal Treasury. About one-tenth of this, between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion, would come from Louisiana.
Under present law, state royalties from exploitation of timber, coal, oil and other natural resources are -- like other state revenues -- not taxed by the federal government. To tax them would violate everything that is patriotic and holy, from states' rights to fair play to the Constitution itself, according to Long and his oil-state colleagues.
Long's problem is that only eight states stand to get most of the royalty and state tax windfall -- $121 billion of the $128 billion. Texas, California, Alaska and Louisiana, in that order, would receive more than 80 percent of the total. Oklahoma, Wyoming, New Mexico and Kansas would also get enough to make them care. This adds up to 16 Senate votes.
That leaves 42 states, and 84 Senate votes, for Danforth to court, which he has been doing with all the dogged persistence of a Missouri mule.
Long is not without formidable resources, however.
Although he has not said so publicly, word has managed to get around that, much as he may want the windfall tax to pass so the Carter Administration won't renege on its decontrol plans, he would filibuster the bill to death if it tampers with Louisiana's oil royalties.
Age 61 and a senator since 1949, Long is up for reelection next year. Although he has never had much trouble with elections, no politician of even ordinary skill wants to have to explain a $1.5 billion slipup to the folks back home.
Apparently the message has gotten through to the administration, which is ostensibly supporting the Danforth proposal as part of its drive to strengthen the Senate'ss version of the House-passed tax bill. Aides to Danforth said Treasury Secretary G. William Miller told him last week that the administration now worries that his admendment could doom the whole bill.
So intense is Long's feeling that only the briefest mention of the Danforth proposal can provoke a half hour of emotional, arm-waving oratory, as occurred last Wednesday in the midst of debate on an entirely different amendment.
If Washington can tax oil royalties, little else would be beyond its reach, Long argued. "What little sovereignty still resides in those states," he declaimed, "should not be stripped away from them."
A letter he circulated among senators last month was more specific: timber, coal and even interest income on state and municipal bonds could be in jeopardy from Washington if it got its hands on state oil royalties.
As for the Missourian's appeal to Sun Belt-Frost Belt sensitivities, Long wondered, mischievously, about Alaska. In some parts of Alaska, he noted with enthusiasm, "they do not see the sun for three months running."
Undeterred, Danforth retorted that oil price decontrol, coupled with a windfall profit tax that exempts state oil royalties, gives "a handful of states . . . a substantial fund of money which can be used to conduct what amounts to economic warfare against the rest of the country." Warming up to this theme, Danforth warned that these states (unnamed) will continue to lure industry and jobs away from the rest of the country and "begin doing exactly what the OPEC countries are doing -- building up their economic base at the expense of the rest of the country."
Not so, said Long, insisting that Louisiana wants the money for better schools, not somebody else's smokestacks. Besides, he added serenely "those who seem to hate us . . . would be in one heck of a fix without us."