A play that bombed off-Broadway would not likely get the chance for the big time, but the Louisiana Legislature’s poorly received opening act of 2016 still has some legs. That’s because, by law, there’s the regular session that began Monday.
Because the first special session did not resolve the budget crises facing the state, yet another special session is almost impossible to avoid come June. And unlike a bad play, you can’t change the actors until the next election. The state of Louisiana needs to get better performances out of its current cast of legislative characters. Meanwhile, the opening reviews were just terrible.
“After seven years of legislators complaining about the previous governor ‘kicking the can down the road,’ they themselves kicked it again,” said the Council for a Better Louisiana. “After many complained that the governor and the administration didn’t start with enough budget cuts, they looked under the hood and couldn’t find many either.”
The council’s criticisms were among the many unfavorable assessments of the short-term thinking in a special session that descended to farce at the end, with bills being passed amid hullabaloo at the last moments. The best that could be said of the performance was, as the Baton Rouge Area Chamber noted, “temporary patches (passed) that will hopefully prevent immediate governmental collapse.”
Immediate, defined as the June 30 end of the current fiscal year. Beyond that, though, the three-week session failed to agree on significant long-term improvements. The principal money-raiser was another penny of sales tax, with some adjustment of existing sales tax pennies to cover more items than they do now.
Come April Fool’s Day, the taxpayers will see significantly higher costs at the register. That probably was inevitable, given the need to quickly raise large amounts of money. But the increased business taxes — including businesses paying sales taxes, as many do, and a curtailment of other tax exemptions — as well as the general tax on merchandise will expire on June 30, 2018.
The Public Affairs Research Council commented that the “fiscal cliff” for about $1.5 billion in state revenue creates a deadline that may force legislators to enact long-term solutions. But like a poorly matched ensemble of director (Gov. John Bel Edwards) and difficult actors (the balky House GOP caucus), we do not see how this production will be ready for prime time for a while. In the meantime, damaging cuts are on the table for colleges and health care, as well as other parts of the far-flung state enterprises.
What is a credible show? It should be a production based on restructuring the state’s tax code so that the taxpayers know the score and the state’s agencies can pay their bills.
That will require a great deal of work, but the good news is that there were significant improvements proposed in the state’s corporate tax system. One bill would eliminate corporate deductions but lower the top rate from 8 percent to 6.5 percent. Voters will have to approve that change in a constitutional amendment in the fall.
That is the kind of trade-off that should be made with the income tax for families and most local businesses, as well, but that bill stalled in the last days of the special session.
In the chaos of the special session’s final days, the problems for the new show were revealed. In the regular session, under the Louisiana Constitution, taxes cannot be raised, so the main problems facing the budget could be put on ice for that time.
Instead, we hope that the director and his cast will come together in rehearsal for a second special session to better serve today’s disappointed audience.