It’s been said Louisiana always lags a little bit behind. And a century-old poem by Irish nationalist W.B. Yeats proves a good example.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” was quoted often in 2016 after the Brexit vote and the election of President Donald Trump. The stanza from Yeats’ “The Second Coming” now applies to the seventh special session of the Legislature, which begins Monday to, again, address Louisiana’s budget problem.
“We are on the brink. We are at the precipice,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said last week about what would happen if lawmakers don’t get over their impasse and approve retaining half of the one-cent state sales tax set to expire on June 30.
The state spending plan that goes into effect July 1 has deep cuts for TOPS, prisons, colleges and universities, police and sheriffs, district attorneys and other government programs with appropriations not specifically protected by law.
Whatever amount on which legislators agree to retain will be spread over programs on a pro rata basis. The .5 percent would sustain government for another year. If lawmakers choose to keep .3 percent, as House leaders want, or agree to .4 percent, as House Republicans are discussing, then parents of college students, for instance, would write checks to cover that part of the college tuition a partially funded Taylor Opportunity Program for Students no longer does.
A sizeable group of House Republicans are angered by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vision of Louisiana if a half-cent sales tax isn’t renewed.
Each listing of the Democratic governor’s apocalyptic predictions — from no more LSU football to evicting the elderly from nursing homes — was met with shouts of “damnable lie” by members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party last week.
“We have money to fund things — that’s just scare tactics,” Denham Springs Republican state Rep. Valarie Hodges told the party luncheon. “The fundamental difference from people who don’t think like I do is that I don’t want to take taxpayer money from people who are working hard and give it to people who don’t work.”
Afterward, Hodges said she’s OK with not fully funding TOPS if a .3 or .4 percent increase is passed by her colleagues. Her constituents have told her not to raises taxes, period.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, wants to disrupt the state budget’s pro rata system and rearrange whatever revenues are raised to fully fund some programs, rather than spread the money across all the partially unfunded services. Legal arguments support both sides in such a move, but both House Speaker Taylor Barras and Senate President John Alario would decide.
Barras’s reported comments last week to a small business group indicate he might broaden the narrow legislative task of only deciding whether to retain part of the expiring penny. Alario’s comments to reporters indicate he would not.
Some prominent Republicans have said enough is enough.
“We’re at a moment in Louisiana’s history where we simply cannot cut our way out of our budget problems,” two men who once served Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal — Paul Rainwater, his former chief of staff and commissioner of administration, and his Department of Revenue secretary, Tim Barfield — wrote last week in an op-ed for The Advocate. They support the .5 percent sales tax renewal, arguing that the business community questions the state’s commitment to investing in education and workforce training. Decreasing the size of government is an admirable goal that should be addressed, they suggested, but the pressing problem is funding government.
Next week, the Legislature will return for another special session to address the state’s revenue problems, following its failure to find a co…
“Closing a university, shutting down food stamps, cutting nursing home services are all things that upend lives in the short term and cause ripples that could have unintended costs in the long run,” Barfield and Rainwater wrote.
Another top Jindal aide, Stephen Waguespack, agrees. A discussion, long avoided, needs to be had on stabilizing Louisiana’s finances that includes pension and Medicaid reforms along with some way to unlock the funds that are dedicated to specific purposes. But July 1 is two weeks away.
Now head of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, Waguespack noted that the state’s powerful lobbying group had agreed to the .5 percent increase during the special session that ended without resolution earlier this month.
“We recognize that business pays 48 percent of any portion" of the state sales tax, Waguespack said. “We said, ‘Look, we’ll play our part. We’re staying at the table and giving suggestions.’ Even more important than policy at this point is for everyone to get in the same room and listen to each other, to tone down the rhetoric on social media and traditional media. It’s time for all of them to put down their swords.”