Shambling toward its end, the 2016 1st Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature — that’s what the budget and tax session is formally called — is remarkable for what it has failed to accomplish.
Perhaps, in the words of LSU President F. King Alexander, it has or will achieve by mandatory adjournment at 6 p.m. on Wednesday a deferral of “the problem,” the prospect of universities or other state institutions being forced to furlough employees or shut down entirely because of a lack of cash to meet payroll.
The problem, obviously, was highest on the minds of people like Alexander who have to meet those payrolls. And the raising of yet another penny of sales tax on the dollar is a way of deferring that problem to another day, perhaps another year.
The problem, we believe, has not gone away.
It has been only deferred, and perhaps the nature of the political calendar has something to do with that outcome.
Friends of newly elected Gov. John Bel Edwards might well point to the calendar: From the day he walked into office, the looming budget crisis had blossomed as revenues continued to tank and the dimensions of the budget problems hidden under former Gov. Bobby Jindal became clearer.
In the midst of this, Edwards also had to organize a new staff and hire new Cabinet secretaries, as well as deal with lawmakers and others. Some of the state departments turned out to be hard to fill, as knowledgeable nominees knew better than to take them on. A transition from a Republican to a Democratic Governor’s Office was more difficult than a change of governors of the same party.
But the legislative calendar also was tough on the prospects for lasting solutions. The GOP balked at the governor’s choice for speaker of the House, ushering in a new era of formal partisanship. Both sides of the new political equation have struggled to find their footing; even the leading critics of Edwards’ tax proposals did not stand in the way of their passage to the floor, although formal votes in favor were hard to find for the administration.
The human factor of cramming these decisions into the time frame allowed: Legislators and staff are stressed in any session, but this crisis made the problem worse.
And finally, they have to do it all over again next week.
The 1st Extraordinary Session over, the regular session begins March 14. There are constitutional limits on raising taxes in a regular session, one of the reasons the special session was needed and why the sales tax increase — bad policy, we think — had to be continued for at least a year.
What is not going away is the impermanent nature of solving the problem.
Louisiana took its first credit downgrade in years, not because of Edwards but because of the built-up financial and fiscal failures of the Jindal years.
And if the go-to Band-Aid was a sales tax increase, the fact is that Edwards and lawmakers had recourse to rafts of studies and recommendations from a range of experts about ways to fix the real problem, the state’s loopy and loophole-ridden tax code.
In the time available, the governor and lawmakers dealt with the problem in the calendar time and political space they felt they had.
It wasn’t enough.