The beautiful azaleas around the State Capitol are shedding their blossoms, as if weeping about the onset of the 2013 Legislature.
There is much to cry about.
A confluence of many different issues at the session starting Monday is unusual.
As this year is a fiscal session, it lasts only to June 6. Members are limited in the number of bills that can be filed. That last rule means that active members need to reflect on their priorities.
A fiscal session is intended to focus on the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. That is covered by the governor’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014.
But there even might be aftershocks from fiscal 2013, as officials reported that $88 million hasn’t yet materialized as expected for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
By some estimates, the budget is technically at least $1 billion or more short of meeting the “standstill” level of spending for fiscal 2014, after taking into account inflation and issues such as the rising costs of more children entering public schools.
In response, the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal is proposing a large grab bag of expedients, including more sales of property and other sources of funding that the administration expects to pan out in the coming 12 months. Things like state employee raises and other potential costs factored into the standstill figure will be given up, part of the efforts to close the budget gap.
One of the unusual aspects of the session: brewing revolts by fiscal hawks in the state House who balked for a time at last year’s budget. If there is a genuine revolt by the conservatives, who in the past were pretty much on Jindal’s side on other issues, that makes for interesting times for the governor.
As if that isn’t enough on the budget side, the governor has proposed a far-reaching change to the state’s basic tax code, eliminating state and corporate income taxes in exchange for big increases in sales taxes. That discussion is beginning to mount in intensity, and the governor — rather aloof in the past year or so — is now stumping the state for support.
The sheer complexity of the tax code revisions is a challenge, already leading to questions about the administration’s figures by some outside groups. Inside the Legislature, such a tax code debate might — as with the concerns of the fiscal hawks — result in a disordering of traditional political lines. Legislators might be tugged one way or another in a conflict between the governor’s ideas and specific interest groups who are affected.
Much of the action, again, ought to be in the House. Revenue measures must begin in the lower chamber, and if experience is any guide, some senators are probably going to hope that the bills stay there, so that the Senate does not have to face them.
And as if the budget and tax discussion wasn’t enough, there may be a revisiting of controversial education bills from the 2012 session. Several of those measures ran into trouble in the courts, with the state Supreme Court pondering constitutional challenges to the bills.
The education bills were rammed through last year and since then have attracted even more criticism from many rank-and-file teachers. The lawmakers will be hard-pressed to change their minds after such a short time, but another set of votes on controversial issues is hardly the hearts’ desire of politicians.
Another such issue is legislative approval of tuition increases for colleges, an issue on which lawmakers are caught between local institutions needing revenue and parents objecting to writing larger checks.
Projecting how all this will pan out isn’t easy, but the azaleas can’t be wrong. Beauty may be in very short supply in the legislative sausage factory.