After four years, what does the Louisiana Legislature have to say for itself?
Many lawmakers are term-limited, so they either retire or run for office in another place, but a great many will be seeking reelection in October. We would argue that there will be a large and ugly gap between their rhetoric and their actual benefits to the state over the last four years.
Rarely has the gap between opportunity and accomplishment been so great. Four years ago, outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal left historic budget holes that had to be filled and in fact were only partly addressed. Politics between the parties, with the House leadership in the lead, created difficulties at every turn, exacerbating Gov. John Bel Edwards’ freshman-term problems gaining traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
At the same time, legislators finish with some specific achievements that recognize state needs, even if politically tougher long-term solutions were often ignored in favor of short-term thinking and expedients.
This year’s session saw less budget brinksmanship and partisan duels over taxes that blighted the first sessions of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ term. While we believe he’s been more in the right over budget matters, he cannot be happy with a sales-tax increase that falls heaviest on working families. For them, at the checkout counter, it is a dear-bought stability at the State Capitol.
Nor have legislators much to show for the crying needs for long-term tax reform, nor for the slow-motion crisis in retirement debt, nor for consistent funding for early childhood education. The latter, however, got more funding as the session went on, a gain from Edwards’ earlier proposals.
But as with highways and infrastructure, just as with taxes, legislators did not look for permanent solutions.
They balked, again, at the obvious need to raise 30-year-old rates of the gasoline tax to pay for transportation. Instead, they raided the BP settlement funds, arising from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to finance a Christmas tree of a patronage bill.
An old saying is that God is on the side of the big battalions. For this Legislature, craving campaign funds, it was the battalions of lobbyists of the well-heeled who did very well. Oil and gas interests got BP funding for a Port Fourchon elevated highway; Harrah’s won a 30-year extension of its exclusive contract for a downtown New Orleans casino.
While they’re ostensibly a public interest, and not a private one, there are big lobbying battalions among judges and sheriffs, who got election-year pay raises.
Among the more needy, and not the extremely greedy, it was public school teachers and school support workers — the latter a key interest group for public employee unions — who also won pay raises.
This mixed bag of results may not be the most edifying agenda for an election campaign, but it is something. What it is not is a record of success that could have been achieved four years ago if wiser and less-partisan debates had broken out in the wake of Jindal’s second term.