At the end of every legislative session, there’s a point at which exhaustion and exasperation overwhelm expectation, and we’re seeing that in this week’s finale of lawmaking 2015-style.
Expectations were too high for lawmakers in this year’s budget crisis. They are used to being told what to do and since 2008 have been all too willing to do what they were told by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Now, with Jindal’s poll numbers in the basement and the budget shortfall several floors below that, the legislators’ late burst of independence will raise taxes enough to mitigate the damage; unfortunately, the Senate and House remain divided at the last. They have to reach some sort of agreement by Thursday.
The current impasse is over the Senate’s maneuvers to make the budget bill, House Bill 1, more palatable to the governor. The Senate proposes to include a phony “tax credit” that would offset the impact of tax increases needed to fill the budget holes and avert a deficit.
By creating $350 million in phantom fees, the legislation also would create $350 million in phantom tax credits that Jindal could claim as an offset to the new revenue that the Legislature is proposing to raise. The rest can be covered by Jindal, for political purposes, by a newfound opposition to “corporate welfare” tax breaks.
For years, the House Ways and Means Committee has been all too willing to accommodate the governor, including dishing out the corporate welfare — as late as last year. But the smell of fishiness was too much this year. The members balked at the tax credit bill. The committee members seemed to discover freedom of action in frustration with the state’s financial situation they helped Jindal to create.
We suspect that, as in maneuvers from earlier years, the Senate will get its way and the House’s protests won’t override the urgency of the clock. For one thing, the lawmakers want to avoid a veto.
On the one hand, fears that Jindal may veto HB1 are probably overrated. If the governor is planning to announce on June 24 that he is running for president, he doesn’t want to do so in the midst of a complete fiscal meltdown in his state.
Still, it is that implicit threat that has provoked lawmakers to a duel between the chambers.
Ultimately, we can’t predict the final outcome, especially because the Ways and Means members were perfectly right to call out the phony tax credit.
We see passage of a budget that avoids serious additional cuts to colleges and health care as the essential matter.
Jindal’s presidential campaign will last longer than his phony tax credit. It is almost certain to be repealed when a new governor and Legislature meet early next year, if only as a rebuke to the politics that led to its adoption. The final result is the important thing, and that is to get a budget this year.