Here's something you can take to the bank: If politicians are issuing letters to one another in public, they're not talking in private. At least, not in any particularly productive way.
So consider the two-page missive that Gov. John Bel Edwards sent to House Speaker Taylor Barras last week a sign of how far apart the major parties remain on a plan to steer clear of the looming "fiscal cliff."
As Edwards pointed out, we're now less than a year away from the expiration date on a temporary sales tax increase passed in 2016, and from seeing more than $1 billion in revenue disappear. But despite having heard from a bipartisan task force set up to make recommendations on revamping the tax laws, scaling back those pesky exemptions everyone complains about and coming up with a more sustainable long-term plan, the Legislature made no progress during this year's regular session, which was the last fiscal session before the temporary tax expires.
It's not like nobody knew this was coming, or like the "cliff" is something that appeared out of nowhere. Facing an imminent budget catastrophe, lawmakers in 2016 intentionally adopted a short-term fix and gave it an expiration date, the idea being that it would force them to get down to work. Edwards tried, as did a number of legislators, including some vocally frustrated House Republicans. But the controlling faction instead opted to kick the can again.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras to form a bipartisan w…
Now the only option is to go into yet another special session, which is what everyone involved assumed would happen.
The Democratic governor's letter, though, follows through on an earlier hint that he might not call one unless he gets a guarantee that the hard core anti-tax Republican cadre that controls the House, and that blocked any movement this year, will play its part.
"Despite repeated attempts, the Legislature, particularly the House of Representatives, has been unwilling to discuss solutions to this looming problem or offer a viable alternative to plans I have proposed," Edwards wrote.
"Given the Legislature's past inability to move any legislation to replace this revenue, I am hesitant to convene another special session without meaningful input from, and a concerted effort by, House leadership to help identify a viable path forward. Specifically, I need a good faith commitment to remove the partisan barriers and solve this problem," he continued.
That's awfully confrontational language from a governor who generally prefers collaboration to conflict, let alone showdown, but who is fed up with what he's calls the caucus of "no."
There are obviously policy differences underlying the division. In theory, Edwards is more averse to cutting back on state services than the House Republicans are, although they have been reluctant to identify specific cuts and want to keep providing full funding for the popular TOPS scholarship programs and other needs.
The wider gap, though, is clearly political.
One way or another, taxes will clearly be going up, even if that just means that the temporary sales tax — which now gives Louisiana the unenviable distinction of holding the nation's highest combined state and local rates — becomes permanent. One thing this fight is about is who will bear the brunt, businesses and high income individuals or the population at large. It's also, of course, about who will get the blame.
And the political angling should only increase as times goes on. By not acting this year, all these politicians have pushed whatever decision they make closer to 2019, when Louisiana will next hold gubernatorial and legislative elections.
Edwards didn't say so in his letter, but if anything, that could be an even more daunting deadline than the fiscal cliff.
Email Stephanie Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org.