Around this time last year the special session to balance state government’s budget ended in tears and anger.
This time around, they weren’t exactly dancing in the streets, but neither were there recriminations.
“You know you’re in a good place where nobody’s totally happy, but everybody’s reasonably satisfied,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday night.
Legislators approved a plan to rebalance this year’s budget that was somewhere between his ideal and what the Republican House majority House wanted. Then they closed up shop seven hours early and went home.
The Louisiana Legislature closed a $304 million mid-year budget deficit after a short specia…
In March 2016, the session ended in a last-minute scrum to approve about $1.2 billion in new taxes. Senate President John Alario, who for four decades has been the steady hand on the legislative rudder, walked out of the marble chambers dabbing his eyes and apologizing for the spectacle. Edwards scolded legislators. “This was not our best day.”
The difference this time around was that the House Republican’s freshman class, now sophomores, embraced what Otto von Bismark saw — that politics is the art of accepting “the next best.” Never wavering from political principle to produce a perfect outcome sounds good, but compromise is the best strategy for actually accomplishing something, the German leader told a reporter in 1867.
Last year the cadre of first-time officeholders took their seats in the Louisiana House and within days was asked to put its hard line rhetoric to the test. The newcomers were elected on platforms that everyday citizens, if they stuck to their guns, could make the common-sense decisions that would right a ship of government without raising taxes and fees.
A 20-some member “Gang of No” developed and effectively killed a half-dozen bills during 2016 special session.
The sharpness in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ voice at the close of the special session last week …
Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Rick Edmonds was elected on promises that he’d force state government to live within its means rather than rely on gimmicky accounting, fund sweeps, and use of rainy day money.
In the 2017 special session, Edmonds and gang brother Rep. Tony Bacala, of Prairieville, had pushed legislation that would hack government services rather than touch a dime of rainy day money as the way to bridge the $304 million gap between bills due and money available for the current fiscal year ending June 30.
“We know we face another perilous debt,” Edmonds said in an interview moments after the special session ended Wednesday night.
State government already is $440 million short for next fiscal year that begins July 1. “So, what’s your plan for next year? You’re not going to able to use the rainy day fund,” Edmonds asked.
Properly called the Budget Stabilization Fund, the money is deposited from a variety of sources for use when economic times — a rainy day — impact the state’s ability to raise enough to pay its bills. Before the door to the savings account can be opened, however, lawmakers have to pass a number of tests, and the biggest one is a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
The important math is not balancing use of the fund with cuts to government services. It’s counting to 70, which is the number of votes needed in the 105-member House to tap the Budget Stabilization Fund.
Gov. Edwards wanted to use $119 million, the maximum available under the rules, and mitigate cuts.
Republican leaders in the state House have moved forward with a deficit-closing plan that wo…
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, suggested $75 million and deeper cuts.
Alario came in with a compromise of $99 million from the rainy day fund and the Senate’s full support.
The Louisiana Legislature's efforts to close a $304 million midyear shortfall in the state b…
All the measures had only enough votes to keep other plans from reaching 70.
That’s where House Speaker Taylor Barras’ measure for following a law long on the books but serially ignored for years by state treasurers came in.
The Edwards administration opposed it until Barras pointed out that his resolution only directs the treasurer to begin reviewing the process of allowing the state to take a cut of fees and statutory dedications to pay down the state’s bond debt, rather than rely on the state general fund, which pays for everyday operations.
The promise of tapping statutory dedications in the future overcame the reluctance of many GOP representatives to back a budget using $99 million in rainy day funds.
“We’ve been working for that since I was elected,” state Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette and ‘Gang of No’ member, said of Barras’ resolution.
Persuasive for Edmonds was the future impact that will give lawmakers space to start considering competing plans to change the way Louisiana collects and spends taxpayer dollars, a job that begins April 10 when the Legislature convenes again.
“We’ve been in crisis mode since I arrived. You don’t have time to thoughtfully pursue reform when you’re doing crisis management all the time. This gives us that time,” Edmonds said.