On Monday, Louisiana taxpayers will begin to foot the bill for yet another special session at a cost of $60,000 per day. This will be the fifth special session for Gov. John Bel Edwards in just over two years. Why is Edwards addicted to special sessions? The more he calls, the more opportunities it gives him to raise taxes.
We’re told the special session is needed to provide government bureaucrats fiscal certainty. How will government types plan for the future if they’re unsure how much more of our money they’ll be able to spend? But the truth is a special session does not give certainty to government officials because how the money is appropriated isn’t determined until the regular session. Legislators can raise money during this special session but can’t appropriate it. And they can’t raise money during this year's regular session, only spend it.
Another problem with the governor’s special session is legislators are being asked to make decisions on raising taxes without knowing just how much money is needed to fill the budget gap. During a regular session, bureaucrats are required to testify before finance and appropriations committees for hundreds of hours justifying their requested increases. This is how legislators determine how much money to spend. But with a special session, the focus and debate shifts from where to spend the money to raising taxes.
Legislators should not blindly accept the governor’s claim that the state is close to $1 billion in the hole. Remember, Edwards has already been caught misleading legislators about $600 million in cuts he said he made but didn’t. Legislators are now supposed to just assume the governor is shooting straight with them about the money needed to balance the budget, without doing the hard work of examining how the revenue is spent.
Edwards seems locked into the position that government is a well-oiled machine void of any waste or inefficiencies, and raising taxes is the only way. Seems ridiculous since the state now spends $5 billion more than it did just two years ago before Edwards took office. Some $1 billion of that increase came directly from Louisiana taxpayers.
President Donald Trump’s federal tax reform will result in the state getting more money from the income tax, because it will mean smaller deductions on individuals' state income tax bill. Just how much is unknown. An analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that Congress' federal tax rewrite will boost the coming year's state budget by about $57 million and the following year's budget by about $283 million. That alone would make up almost one-third of the so-called "fiscal cliff" deficit. Plus, Trump's tax reform is sure to heat up the state’s economy, impacting businesses and consumer spending, resulting in more sales tax revenue for Louisiana.
The state will clearly need more money with the expiration of the temporary one-cent sales tax this summer. But we’ll only know how much is actually needed after the regular session. That’s why raising taxes during a special session before the regular session makes no sense.
That is, unless your focus is growing government. Then it makes a lot of sense.
The governor has proposed a fake budget for the regular session that will never fly. It’s designed to inflict the most pain possible on constituents unless legislators raise taxes. The scheme is designed to get a rise out of the public motivating them to pressure legislators. Expect to see special interests flooding the Capitol during the session with warnings of apocalyptic consequences unless taxes are raised.
But legislators seem to have caught onto Edward’s slippery ways. Remember he drew a line in the sand, demanding House members agree to a plan to raise taxes before he would call another special session. They didn’t, so Edwards moved his line in the sand to a later date. House conservatives called his bluff again. Edwards caved and called a special session anyway. The governor’s tough guy act failed miserably. If legislators are wise to Edward’s shell game, the public can’t be that far behind.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.