Grace Notes: Raise taxes? Or slash higher education, health care? Louisiana lawmakers apparently dislike first option _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Louisiana State Capitol shown. Audits of life insurance company policies have uncovered more than $31 million in Unclaimed Property for beneficiaries in the past eight years, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

There’s a word that’s been uttered a lot during the current special legislative session: appetite. As in, lawmakers just don’t have an appetite to raise more taxes.

And who would? No politician likes to be the bearer of bad news. And certainly no politician wants to subject him or herself to public second-guessing by outside groups that don’t have to bother with figuring out how to provide state services despite an historic budget shortfall.

Clearly House members didn’t have the appetite to approve a modest income tax increase for upper-income taxpayers, in the form of an ever-evolving proposal to roll back excess itemized deductions that residents can claim against their state taxes.

The Ways and Means Committee conducted two tortured hearings on two different versions of the bill, and ultimately passed a convoluted proposal to turn the tax increase into a short-term loan from taxpayers to the state. Even then, the full House pushed away from the table, at first delaying a vote and then returning to the Capitol Sunday night to reject it out of hand.

The drama over House Bill 38, sponsored by state Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, played out against still more bad news: the discovery of an extra $200 million shortfall, on top of the $600 million hole that Gov. John Bel Edwards has been pleading for lawmakers to close. With just a couple of days left before the session must end, it’s looking like the Legislature won’t even cobble together half that much.

So the next question to ponder is this: Just how much of an appetite do those same legislators have for making further deep cuts to higher education and health care?

‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.