In the old days, the Legislature would run out of time for its session but the mere vagaries of physics meant nothing to those Lords of the Universe: The president of the Senate would just stop the clock, so that the last-minute bills could get through.
Now, we have good government. So almost any pesky troublemaker can complain and the clock would get started again, to the detriment of the power structure. Quite often now, members are sober at the end of the session when all these things used to happen. Perhaps it is an improvement.
It's a new day, but the calendar is something fluid, still, in the State Capitol.
That's why it is 2017 but the 2018 Legislature is more or less in session.
While it has not been public, it is not secret that a series of private meetings among members of the Legislature, in several groups sometimes overlapping in membership, is taking place about the budget crisis and the "fiscal cliff," the end date of a billion dollars or so of "temporary" taxes.
Those include principally the one-cent additional sales tax passed to patch up Gov. John Bel Edwards' first budget. It was necessary because of the budgetary chaos left by former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.
But patching the hole for good is proving more difficult, and the legislators who once were able to stop the rotation of the Earth — at least in terms of legislative days — have been less than agile in fixing the problems that many of today's members helped to create during Jindal's two terms.
The governor is meeting around the state with business leaders, many of them his contributors and supporters already, but it is not clear what the final agenda from upstairs will be. It is also not clear if the business community is willing to put pressure on lawmakers to resolve this looming crisis.
The legislators are kicking around a lot of ideas during their gatherings, but there seems to be general agreement that Louisiana's unhappy status as No. 1 in the nation in sales taxes is likely to continue; even if the fiscal cliff is dealt with, alternatives won't bring in enough money fast enough. So the one-cent sales tax is likely to be continued, at least in part, as a bridge to the solutions for the longer term.
And what are the solutions? A lot of ideas that legislators, with characteristic disregard for the calendar, have rejected in nearly two years of wrestling with these same problems.
However much legislators talk among themselves, they continue to face several interlocking problems: Jindal's cuts to the personal income tax kicked out one leg of the three-legged stool of state finances, also including sales and energy-related business taxes. It takes 70 votes in the House and 26 votes in the Senate to achieve the two-thirds necessary to pass "new" taxes, even if they are replacements for other taxes that are to be reduced as part of a budget deal.
Revising the personal income tax, to that before 2007-2008 when tax cuts blew up the system, remains politically difficult. But the tax system is also made worse by hefty state subsidies to local government. Taking those benefits away is difficult, too, even if the taxes are swapped for other sources of revenue.
Those two-thirds numbers are difficult to achieve, because there's another date on the calendar: 2019. That is not only an election year for the Legislature, it is also the re-election year for Edwards, whom the ultraconservatives in the GOP leadership are clearly targeting as the only Democrat in statewide office.
Even term-limited members of the House are not free of re-election worries; they are gauging their chances of getting to the Senate. It's like the old three-dimensional chess sets, with pawns seeking a vacant square above them to move up. Maybe not very dignified for Lords of the Universe, but those discussions are going on right now, too.
So it's 2019, really. Already.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
State legislators finally departed Baton Rouge on Friday.