Here's the thing about human nature: If you tell people that they don't have to make hard decisions now but can instead put them off until later, they'll probably do it.
One week into this year’s regular legislative session, Gov. John Bel Edwards has yet to gain…
Keep that in mind as lawmakers spend the new legislative session tackling the state's always out-of-whack tax code. And certainly keep that in mind if they don't.
The thinking behind the Legislature's decision a year ago to bail out the current budget with a stopgap emergency plan was that it would be forced to come up with a more stable framework this year. That was the idea behind the temporary increase in state sales tax, which took effect immediately but will drop off the books next year, creating what's become known as a $1.3 billion "fiscal cliff."
Right about now is when they were supposed to be staring it down.
This is the last fiscal session before the tax expires, which means it's the last time lawmakers will be able to raise taxes in a regularly-scheduled session as opposed to a special session. And the next fiscal session two years from now will hit just as everyone's running for re-election, which makes raising taxes on some — even if the proposal includes reducing them on others — especially daunting.
Rather than coming together and tackling the challenge once and for all, though, the opposite could happen.
With Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' support, the Republican-majority Legislature set up a blue-ribbon panel to make what were supposed to be apolitical recommendations. Once the report came out, though, some key Republicans who had supported the task force's creation started backing away from its ideas for restructuring, instead, focusing their energy on spending cuts.
Edwards has talked up the task force's recommendations, but fearing that some of them might not pass muster, he came up with a complicated last-minute proposal to wrest some revenue from businesses that qualify for such large exemptions that they pay no state income tax.
The rollout of his proposed commercial activities tax has been rough. It drew immediate criticism from business interests and has also caused concern from some of his usual left-of-center allies, who worry that it could end up being regressive.
It definitely didn't help that Edwards didn't make the political case or line up support before he announced his plan, or that his staff was still figuring out how to address some concerns — how it would impact low-margin businesses such as grocery stores, to name one oft-cited example — after the session started.
All this is playing out against in a political landscape that is undeniably partisan. There are Republicans in the Legislature who want to figure out how best to stabilize the budget, but there are others who just don't want to vote for a tax, and the two-thirds threshold necessary to do so is daunting. Outside interest groups pushing against any new taxes are active.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has a tall hill to climb.
In trying to sell his ideas to the public, Edwards has emphasized that he's asking businesses to pay their "fair share," and that lower and middle-income residents would actually see their taxes go down. Powerful lobbyists representing the business community, meanwhile, complain that they're being singled out. And a consensus has yet to settle around many of the other ideas floating around, including to eliminate some of the exemptions that benefit business.
Then there's the fact that, despite the air of urgency they tried to create with last year's temporary measures, some members apparently just aren't feeling it.
Senate President John Alario, a politically astute Edwards ally, told The Advocate's Tyler Bridges last week, “I’m afraid that members are not feeling the pressure of the cliff being here.”
Edwards has held out the possibility that he'd call lawmakers into special session if they don't act. You'd think they'd want to avoid that, given how many months they were stuck in Baton Rouge during last year's crisis. But Alario's analysis suggests that it could happen.
They'd likely complain, again, about having to spend so much time away from their jobs and families. But if it happens, they'll deserve no sympathy, for they will have brought it on themselves.