There wasn't a whole lot new in Gov. John Bel Edwards' opening address to the Louisiana Legislature's latest special session, because really, at this point what else can he say? This is the fifth special session in just over two years, and the seventh session overall. And throughout, the storyline has remained consistent: Will lawmakers ever find the will to stabilize the state's tax structure so that valued programs aren't constantly in peril?
Edwards' approach Monday afternoon, as always, was to plea for reason and to cast himself as willing to meet conservative lawmakers halfway. Taking steps to replace about $1 billion in tax revenue that will drop off the books June 30, rather than waiting until the last minute, will give college students making decisions about next year the security of knowing that their TOPS scholarships will be there, he said, and it will prevent private hospital partners from having to plan for widespread layoffs. Edwards, a Democrat, even co-opted a popular Republican line to further his case: "We talk a lot about running government the way we would run a business. No prudent business person would choose to wait."
Gov. John Bel Edwards called on Louisiana legislators to come together in the next two weeks of their latest special session to finalize a pla…
Remarks by Gov. John Bel Edwards 1st Special Session of 2018 February 19, 2018 (As prepared for delivery)
As always, Edwards kept his criticism of those who disagree with his preferred revenue-raising plan — basically some variation on the ideas offered by a legislatively created task force, or as he put it to legislators, "your plan" — indirect. He said he disagrees but can respect those who say cuts are sufficient, but not those who won't propose and put their names to those cuts, as the GOP House majority has never done.
"Let's be honest about one thing," he said. "When you say that government should spend less, what you really mean is that government should do less."
He said he thinks House Speaker Taylor Barras, who is clearly struggling to get his caucus on the same page, is acting in good faith. Same for Republican state Sen. Jack Donahue of Mandeville, who authored a bill last year requiring the administration to stick to a "standstill budget," even as he noted that his current proposal, "to replace a portion of this revenue that we are losing, would be considerably less than a standstill budget proposal."
There was one exception, though. In an apparent reference to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and its president Stephen Waguespack, who was previously former Gov. Bobby Jindal's chief of staff and who is rumored to be considering his own gubernatorial run next year, Edwards delivered these uncharacteristically harsh words: "We have to be more concerned with Louisiana’s future than what score we might receive from a partisan political organization masquerading as a trade association. As Albert Einstein said, 'We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.' We surely can’t afford to outsource our decision-making to the principal architects of the mess we are trying to clean up."
"Shots fired," tweeted state Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat.
They sure were.