Louisiana’s branch of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative interest group that’s closely aligned with the industrialist Koch brothers, issued a legislative report card last week rating lawmakers’ votes in the recent emergency special session. And not surprisingly, those who did the most to close much of a huge budget gap scored the worst in the group’s ranking.
Also last week, the Louisiana Republican Party put out a fundraising plea blasting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, and only Edwards, for raising taxes. Never mind that both houses of the Legislature are dominated by Republicans, that none of the revenue-raising measures he sought would have passed without support from many GOP lawmakers — and that Louisianans who believe the crisis was real are more than 10 times more likely to blame ex-Gov. Bobby Jindal than his newly sworn-in successor, according to a recent University of New Orleans poll.
The nearly $3 billion crisis has at least temporarily passed. The solution is far from complete and relies too heavily on bandages rather than structural fixes. But the worst possible budget cuts to higher education, health care and other priorities have been largely averted, for now, anyway.
Still, the blame game goes on, and it targets those who have not only behaved more responsibly but who have done so at the risk of drawing just the sort of oversimplified, unproductive partisan slings and arrows these groups offer.
Americans for Prosperity listed seven key money-raising measures in its report card, then declared that those who voted no were “with” Louisiana taxpayers. Yes votes should be considered a strike against the lawmakers’ constituents, it contended, even though those same constituents have kids who attend state universities and rely on other government programs that were facing devastation.
By this group’s exacting standard, not one lawmaker earned a perfect score. In the Senate, Neil Riser, R-Columbia, came closest, voting with Americans for Prosperity on five of seven measures. But even he saw fit to support a bill to allow for collection of online sales taxes and one to boost taxes on alcohol.
On the House side, nobody voted against everything Americans for Prosperity opposed, although a few members of the “hell, no” caucus did oppose multiple measures. Highest scoring in the group’s book would be state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, who opposed six of the bills, from the temporary 1-cent sales tax to a new tax on short-term rentals, but who missed the seventh vote.
More telling was the list of Republicans who set out to hold the line but who wound up voting for multiple tax increases.
They include Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, of Metairie, who voted for four of the measures and missed three roll calls. Lance Harris, of Alexandria, the Republican caucus chairman, backed six of the seven revenue bills, opposing only a measure to expand the businesses subject to the corporate franchise tax. Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras, who won his job following a full-on partisan fight, voted with the governor and against Americans for Prosperity on all seven bills.
As for that state GOP fundraising plea, well, it simply ignores the fact that most of the party’s own members wound up supporting the bills it put in Edwards’ lap. The party deliberately misleads by omission, which is pretty much par for the course in political discourse these days.
Although Americans for Prosperity and the GOP cast pro-tax votes as a mark of shame, in this case, the opposite is true. There was a dire problem, and the people who took the hard votes deserve credit, not criticism, for trying to fix it.
But that doesn’t mean all those Republican members who came through in the end deserve gold stars. House GOP leaders in particular spent too much time stalling, maneuvering and basically chasing the false god of easy fixes. At one point, they proposed defunding the Department of Education, without even realizing what that would entail or that it would gut a pet Republican program, private school vouchers. Their behavior directly contributed to the chaos that played out during the session’s final hour and had a big role in leaving the budget hole partially intact.
But in the end, the people who cast yes votes did at least some of what needed to be done. No matter what these outside critics hope voters will think, there’s no shame in that.