“Ye are a factious crew and enemies to all good government,” Oliver Cromwell told the Rump Parliament in 1653, and Gov. John Bel Edwards must know exactly how he felt.
Cromwell wound up his peroration by telling his “pack of mercenary wretches” to be gone. Unfortunately for Edwards, he doesn't have that option with the state legislature. When a session turns out to be such a flop as this one, the answer is not to send everyone packing, but to do it all again.
So we'll have to pay for yet another special session. As Einstein supposedly observed, doing the same thing over and over in hopes of a different result is insanity, but it is unlikely that any legislators expect any solution to the state's fiscal woes to emerge when they reconvene. They'll probably settle for extending at least part of the sales tax they purportedly imposed as a temporary measure while they pursued fundamental reforms and plugged a $1.3 billion budget deficit.
They set up a brain trust to figure out how to rationalize Louisiana's tax system, but killed just about every bill that sought to implement its recommendations. If they couldn't or wouldn't come up with a fix in the regular session, it is hard to hold out much hope next time, for nothing has changed.
Perhaps the final two measures that could have generated big dollars for Louisiana’s budget problems went by the wayside Wednesday.
We will be likely be stuck for the foreseeable future with the highest sales taxes in the country. When that happens in state with so much poverty as this one, legislators should hang their heads in shame. Right. Fat chance.
Insofar as a solution requires fresh sources of revenue, a GOP cadre in the legislature can always be relied on to say no, arguing that the state does not spend wisely. On the face of it, though we are all weary of the cliché, it makes sense to argue that Louisiana does not have a revenue problem, but a spending problem. A relatively small state such as this one should be able to rub along nicely with an annual budget of $30 billion.
But that includes federal money, and a ton of state revenues that are constitutionally or statutorily earmarked, so that only around $3 billion a year is allocated at the legislature's discretion. That is why every time the state runs short of dough, options for retrenchment are limited and legislators turn their sights to such frills as health care and higher education, all the while handing out tax exemptions like candy to their campaign contributors. We have reached the stage where the state exempts more in taxes than it collects.
It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out ways of putting the budget on an even keel. Indeed, the task force pointed out various commonsense measures, most of which have been summarily rejected. Indeed, legislators' preference is to make a bad situation worse. When a committee gathered to consider scotching tax exemptions, while lowering tax rates, for instance, lobbyists descended en masse seeking fresh hand-outs. They managed to get 15 either created or extended.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has called a special session to begin shortly after the Louisiana Legislature's current session ends to give legislators…
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, introduced various bills inspired by the task force recommendations, but was obliged to abandon the effort, declaring, “We are not actually focused on solving our fiscal cliff or our tax reform problems.” He is by no means the only legislator chagrined at this failure to address the chronic flaws of the system, but the prevailing view seems to be, as Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, puts it, that “we have to pay attention to what our constituents want, not what just a hand-picked group of insiders say we ought to do.”
Maybe so, but in a representative democracy a slavish adherence to the whims of the public does not represent the “leadership” that politicians always promise on the campaign trail. This is a legislature that made a great show of its independence, refusing Edwards any say in choosing its speaker and committee chairmen. But independence is wasted on a crew that shies away from crucial challenges, and dare not risk a bold move.
Thus, we have not only an unholy budget mess, but the state's roads and bridges edge closer to collapse because legislators fear a backlash if they increase the gasoline tax to pay for repairs and construction. We already face a $13.1 billion bill for the criminal neglect we call deferred maintenance.
Now state senators have adopted a resolution affirming “the need for civility in political discourse and debate.” Looking back on this session, you'd have to conclude Cromwell had a better idea
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