The age-old warning “be careful what you ask for” rings true today for the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, state Rep. Neil Abramson, a Democratic legislator from New Orleans. Abramson’s attempted run for speaker of the House derailed the governor’s selection for speaker. Abramson was rewarded by new House Speaker Taylor Barras with the chairmanship. Now, Abramson is likely to be considered one of the most powerful men in the Capitol for the next three weeks. Let’s see if he can handle the pressure to work with the governor and the Legislature to minimize the current fiscal crisis.
With Louisiana facing a deficit of nearly $900 million in a state budget that runs until June 30, and a $2 billion deficit for the next fiscal year, Abramson is tasked to provide the leadership and direction to move revenue-raising bills through his committee. After the presentation by the governor clearly identifying the problem, the balls are in Abramson’s court. All legislation that will raise new revenue must pass through the Ways and Means Committee. Given the tight time frame and the high stakes, Abramson has an opportunity to demonstrate his finesse as a legislator by bringing his committee together and balancing special interests to focus on short- and long-term solutions.
For the last eight years, there has been an absence of legislative leadership. Gov. John Bel Edwards has provided a road map for compromise and fiscal reform. Unlike the take-it-or-leave-it approach of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Edwards and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne are working to provide accurate and timely budget and revenue data to the Legislature. As we begin the first special session with the future of education and health care in Louisiana at stake, citizens must demand the careful attention and leadership of the Legislature to focus on realistic and practical measures to cut expenses and raise revenue.
Abramson has a career-defining opportunity to provide leadership. Failure in leadership will have drastic repercussions for our state. Please encourage all the members of the House Ways and Means Committee to be informed and engaged in solutions, not political posturing or pandering to the same old political interests of the past.
We are all watching Abramson and Barras for their leadership to resolve a fiscal crisis created by the malfeasance and ineptitude of the last governor and legislative leaders. Each member of the Louisiana Legislature has an opportunity to make informed decisions about the impact of this fiscal crisis. It is time to put Louisiana first.
Melissa S. Flournoy
former Louisiana legislator