In a triumph of hope over experience, the gavels will fall Monday in House and Senate chambers at the State Capitol, opening a new special session of the Legislature.
Previous meetings, costing $60,000 or more a day, have raised taxes on both business and individuals, and nibbled at chronic budget problems. Now, there is something of a tougher deadline, as about $1 billion in “temporary” taxes roll off the books June 30.
Something has to give. But isn’t that what we’ve heard for two years? Gov. John Bel Edwards, various legislatively created task forces and numerous outside studies also have been saying something has to give. Give has been in short supply.
It is a frustrating time for the governor, who has supported a variety of tax bills — some of them unwise, in our view — that have typically been bottled in the Ways and Means Committee by a hostile leadership in the House. But at least the governor has tried.
Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, presides over a sharply divided GOP caucus that can’t unify around tax reform plans that its own task forces have recommended. Nor have Republican leaders shown us anything remotely like major reductions in the budget. Cuts are promised but never specified.
Senators remain frustrated with the House leadership, but by law, most revenue measures have to start in the House. That is the roadblock.
After many meetings with the governor and others, is the Legislature finally ready to adopt what Barras has called a mixed approach of more budget cuts but also more revenues? The schools and institutions dependent on reliable state budgets need to know what they will operate with after July 1.
Under the Louisiana Constitution, the regular session in March cannot take up new tax measures, even to replace the expiring taxes with others. That means a special session was inevitable this year, with some arguing that it could come after the regular session expires in June.
Another view was that it is best to hold it early, so the budget-writers in the regular session will know what levels of money to work with.
The latter makes sense, but if the Legislature is not collectively able to act, we’ll be in crisis mode again in June, right up against the deadline.
The public and the state’s institutions deserve better. There’s no reason for Louisiana to have the nation’s highest sales taxes; there’s room to raise some taxes, reduce deductions and exemptions, and end up with lower overall rates of income taxes, personal and corporate, and still make the state more business-friendly.
That’s the formula for tax reforms, and even the U.S. Congress has managed to get something approaching that into law. That the Legislature can’t do so speaks to a profound failure that Barras and his colleagues have never coherently explained, and cannot responsibly repeat this year.