The Louisiana Legislature is not exactly covering itself in glory. Key committees or full legislative branches raise taxes without enough votes to raise taxes, pass a budget that provides no budget for key hospitals, reach a Common Core “compromise” that likely will never compromise the reign of Common Core and fail to bag the practice of having state government serve as “bag-man” for unions.
On taxes, set aside the policy question of whether ending some tax “exemptions” is good policy (it is) or whether the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote to raise taxes is wise (it’s debatable). The fact is that the state constitution does so require. Nonetheless, the House deemed itself to have passed four bills reducing exemptions despite not securing a two-thirds vote.
Legislative leaders pretend to be following a 1993 attorney general’s opinion when they claim that only a simple majority was needed to reduce the exemptions. They don’t read very well. That opinion actually says the constitution has “a two-thirds vote requirement contained in Article 7, Section 2 pertaining to the repeal of an existing tax exemption.” That’s clear.
The opinion does note that a mere “suspension” of an exemption can take place with a simple majority vote. But that’s not applicable: What the House did last week did not “suspend” exemptions but permanently ended parts of exemptions. Hint: To “suspend” is, by definition, to do something temporary. These bills are permanent. They were thus not constitutionally passed.
Moving on to health care. Up until last week, the operating assumption was that higher education would be cut by some amount and that it could absorb at least some cuts. The fight was not about whether to cut but just how little (preferably) or much to cut.
State hospitals, on the other hand, involve not small changes in tuition but (potentially) matters of life and death. Especially with contracts in hand with new private operators thereof, the basic hospital payments should be virtually sacrosanct.
Instead, the House Appropriations Committee fully funded (albeit with the aforementioned unconstitutional hocus pocus with taxes) higher education, but slashed an astonishing $190 million from health care, which really amounts to an unconscionable $500 million-plus, due to lost federal matching funds.
The committee can’t be serious.
Moving on to Common Core. Legislators are touting a “compromise” by which the state’s educational standards will be reviewed and possibly rewritten via a new, yearlong process that is admirably public and transparent. The transparency is quite welcome, and it alone makes the bill better than nothing.
But here’s the joker in the deck: The current Common Core standards are the default option. If either the Legislature’s education committees or the governor rejects the new standards developed through the public process — or if the commission charged with making the changes produces schlock by either incompetence or destructive design — then the whole process starts over and Common Core stays in effect for yet another year. And then maybe another, and another, and so on.
If so, not even Common Core math can obscure the resulting equation: The education establishment wins and parents lose.
Finally, moving on to the union issue. Right now, the state provides a service to unions that it provides to no other organization with even quasi-political aspects — namely, by offering automatic payroll deduction of workers’ union dues, which it duly remits to the unions. Unions in turn can (and do) send some of those dues to national parent unions that take highly political positions (which often happen to contradict the views of clear majorities of Louisianians).
There’s no good reason unions should get this special benefit. (As my Advocate colleague James Gill demonstrated, this conclusion isn’t merely an ideological sop to conservatives or big business. As he wrote, it’s simple common sense: “The state should not be doing favors to special interests with a legislative agenda.”)
Apparently, too few legislators could find the courage of their common sense: A bill to stop the bag-man practice was pulled from the House calendar just moments before debate was slated to begin. Apparently, even in a heavily Republican House, the votes weren’t there to pass it.
Well, dues may still be withheld, but judgment shouldn’t be: That’s pathetic.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.