If there's one thing that should give Louisiana lawmakers indigestion these days, it's the governor threatening to call them into yet another special session.
But last week, after the House leadership's failure to pass a budget during the regularly scheduled session forced them to stick around for a pointless second go-round, they heard something potentially scarier: Gov. John Bel Edwards is now hinting that he might NOT call yet another special session, the fifth of his short tenure, to address the $1.2 billion in temporary taxes that are scheduled to drop off the books just over a year from now.
Instead, Edwards floated the possibility that he could just let the chips fall where they may, if House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and his conservative allies don't show that they're willing to consider serious restructuring and raising new revenue. Until he can be "reasonably sure" we won't have the "the same failure of leadership, why would I call one?" Edwards mused.
Louisiana lawmakers made crafting their latest nearly $29 billion state operating budget a t…
It's unlikely he'll follow through, but consider it Edwards' opening bid in what's sure to be a year of tense, partisan-tinged negotiations over how much to fill the gap, and how much to slash government services that have already seen repeated cuts. The deeper question is whether the Democratic governor and the Republican faction that dominates the House can agree on how to put the state on surer financial footing.
Based on how this year's session went down, the prospects aren't promising.
Lawmakers had enacted a huge temporary sales tax increase last year in order to give them time to come up with a better plan. They enlisted a blue-ribbon task for to make recommendations, but then they largely ignored it. Desperate to pass something, Edwards came up with yet another idea, his doomed commercial activity tax, which gobbled up considerable energy but went nowhere.
State legislators finally departed Baton Rouge on Friday.
Ultimately, the Legislature adjourned without lifting a finger to address its longer-term challenges, and given that it's barred from raising taxes during next year's non-fiscal session, all Edwards can do is call yet another special session before the revenue is scheduled to disappear at the end of June 2018.
So for Edwards to even hint that he might not, unless Republican lawmakers show they're willing to work with him, is something of a power play, a suggestion that he's not going to be the only one to put political skin in the game. It's a bet that the House leadership that has so far refused to consider raising revenue won't be willing to follow the approach to its logical conclusion, which is drastic cuts to state services.
And while the group that controls the House has managed to thwart him frequently, it's also a sign that he thinks he emerged from the session with a stronger hand.
He's not wrong. Edwards didn't get a lot of what he wanted out of the session, but his refusal to cave to House leadership demands that he hold back a big chunk of money in case of a mid-year shortfall paid off. The Senate, which like the House is Republican majority, had his back, and enough moderate Republicans in the House bucked their own leaders that Edwards was able to get the budget that he wanted.
And House leaders who gambled on forcing the special session emerged with nothing but a weaker hand going forward. The list of moderate Republicans who supported the budget strongly overlaps with those who did the hard work and took the risk of offering bills to address the fiscal cliff, only to learn that their own leaders didn't support them. Given that experience, they're even less likely to stay in line the next time.
Also, special sessions, by their nature, play to the governor's institutional strength. Edwards, as he suggested, gets to determine the timing, as well as what measures the Legislature can consider.
Of course, everyone involved still faces daunting challenges here, and conservatives who run the House still hold plenty of power. But given how the last couple of months have played out, balance is certainly fluid. And really, you can't blame the governor for flexing his muscles a bit.