In all the reviews of the 2017 Legislature, the consensus is that the lawmakers failed to do the one thing they need to do: address the "fiscal cliff."
That is the expiration of temporary sales taxes and other revenue increases that enabled new Gov. John Bel Edwards to patch together a budget in his first year in office. Many of the new taxes, particularly an onerous new one-penny on the sales tax, expire on June 30, 2018.
Not enough of a cliff, apparently, as next to nothing was done on tax reform, and even less on credible spending reforms. Both should be part of a solution, but the GOP-led House thinks only of cutting medical services for the poor in the giant Medicaid program. Well, that and opposing taxes.
With so many bad reviews of action, or inaction, by the 2017 Legislature, there is at least …
What should not be forgotten is that this is a largely self-made crisis.
In 2002, the people voted in the Stelly tax reform plan. It raised taxes on higher-income earners while adding significant exemptions from the sales tax. The sales tax breaks to every resident on food and residential utilities are in the Louisiana Constitution and will not likely be changed.
But over a couple of years, the Legislature repealed the income tax provisions. Then-Rep. Edwards was among those voting for repeal, blowing a hole in the state’s revenue structure from which it has not yet recovered.
That hole is not just about the reversal of the Stelly plan, and its subsequent benefits to the better-off, who are the people legislators most listen to. Changes to the sales tax have been studied, bringing it in line with Texas and other states on taxing services. Reducing tax breaks billed as "economic development" is also a good idea, as with the film tax credits and others for favored industries.
Repeatedly hitting a wall of opposition from House Republicans, Gov. John Bel Edwards is try…
But the main thing is eliminating the one-cent "emergency" sales tax increase of 2016, and it will take some version of Stelly 2.0 to do so. There just isn't enough money in the other changes to deal with the $1 billion or more needed.
In fact, depending on how it is structured, most people would probably get a net reduction in their taxes, even in paying a bit more in income tax, because of the broad reach of the new one-penny sales tax. Somehow, that's a hard sell; Edwards favors it but says legislators aren't buying.
Louisiana is now tops in the nation in average sales taxes. It is not a good place to be.
It's also astonishing that lawmakers resist changes: Our recurring budget crises are not acts of God or the Federal Reserve or the Saudi oil cartel. They are a consequence of a decision by governors and Legislatures past to do the financially irresponsible and politically attractive maneuver of eliminating the Stelly provisions.
Don't let legislators, as they consult back home, get away with dodging personal responsibility for the crises they universally deplore.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is facing the first of several key decisions centered on a single ques…