Last Sunday, as millions of Americans prepared to watch the Academy Awards, Louisiana lawmakers reached an impasse over how to fund the state’s budget, condemning to collapse a special session that Gov. John Bel Edwards had called to address a looming fiscal shortfall when more than $1 billion in temporary taxes fall off the books this June. The session adjourned Monday, and as with “The Shape of Water,” this year’s Oscar winner for best picture, there was no happy ending.
Lawmakers took another cue from Hollywood, leaving their constituents with a fiscal cliffhanger. It might all be as entertaining as the latest blockbuster if the consequences weren’t so sad, the stakes so high. With no clear means to fund basic state services and popular programs like the TOPS scholarship for college students, the Legislature will soon enter a regular session obligated to craft a budget based on Draconian cuts.
This is, to use another Tinseltown analogy, yet the latest sequel to a story we’ve seen too many times, as partisan divisions at the State Capitol prevent meaningful compromise.
But the failure of the special session was about more than differences between Republicans and Democrats. It was also about a fundamental lack of cohesion within the parties themselves.
Much has been made about entropy in the House GOP leadership, with Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia often seemingly unable to corral his fellow caucus members around an alternative proposal to Edwards’ tax and spending plans. But the governor, a Democrat, appeared no more successful in marshaling lawmakers of his own party around a budget deal.
The result looked like a legislative amateur hour — a reminder that in an age of term limits, there are few folks around the Capitol with the institutional knowledge to broker a fiscal plan that a majority will swallow.
Now that the credits have rolled on this exercise in political theater, the reviews have quickly started to pour in. Republicans will surely lay most of the blame at the feet of the governor, who’s already in the electoral crosshairs among his GOP foes as he looks toward reelection. Republican lawmakers have their own critics, who point to the House GOP’s recalcitrance on revenue-raising measures as a continuing obstacle in sustaining the work of government.
Too bad the special session tanked before the glitterati at the Oscars could take notice. Surely, the state’s elected leaders would have taken home a trophy for making a disaster epic for the ages.
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Matt Houston/LSU Manship School News Service