House on 052517

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, as House begins business Thursday, May 25, 2017, with a Memorial Day ceremony.

Advocate Photo by Travis Spradling

As Louisiana faces more than a billion dollars in red ink, state lawmakers are poised to spend even more money on yet another special session to do what they should have done already — agree on a solution to keep state government solvent.

Such is life at the State Capitol these days, where resignation, rather than resolve, is the answer to a fiscal crisis that’s loomed for months. Taxpayers should be outraged.

Next year, $1.3 billion in temporary taxes will fall off the books, creating a so-called fiscal cliff toward which the legislative lemmings at the Capitol continue to casually trot — oblivious, apparently, to the long descent awaiting not only them, but their long-suffering constituents, in 2018.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards began the current session by proposing a business activity tax that had no chance of gaining approval in the Republican-controlled Legislature. It seemed more of a pose than a policy prescription — a gesture aimed at lobbing the legislative ball to the GOP leadership, nudging them to offer an alternative.

Republicans repeatedly promised a plan of their own, but the wait for the GOP’s Great Solution has rivaled Charlie Brown’s bereft vigil for the Great Pumpkin.

If all of this sounds like political theater, it’s a production in which state leaders have come to think of themselves as passive members of the audience, not actors in their own play.

We’re not sure whether the happenings on stage are a French farce or a Greek tragedy, since each day’s deliberations at the Capitol have alternated between absurdity and despair. In the midst of miasmic fiscal doom, lawmakers nevertheless found time to worry about whether to rename the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, a boarding school for gifted students that's done just fine under its present title. All of this might be funny, if not for the real suffering of the students who rely on properly funded universities, the motorists who depend on decent roads, the poor and the sick for whom state government is their only lifeline.

Such realities reaffirm the need for action. Instead, the Capitol’s collective response has been a shrug. That complacency commanded the headlines this week, when House Speaker Taylor Barras suggested that another special session is inevitable.

In the new era of deeply divided state government, special sessions aren’t nearly so special as they used to be. A constitutional instrument created to address singular moments of urgency, special sessions have instead become the default for cobbling budgetary expedients rather than bold reforms.

None of this sounds very special to us. In fact, it sounds like defeat.