A remarkable scene unfolded in the State Capitol: The lions of Americans for Prosperity sat at the witness table with the lambs of the Louisiana Budget Project — or is that the other way around? — to oppose a bad bill.
The conservative and liberal groups are more than often at odds. But a bill to undermine the state sales tax that pays for much of the general fund was too much for both.
Of course, that was about as far as the unusual went in the House Ways and Means Committee.
This is Louisiana. The legislators voted for the bad bill.
The lions and the lambs agreed, but the elephants and donkeys could not be persuaded.
House Bill 693 by Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, would redirect a portion of the current state sales tax to roads and bridges. It’s a measure that flies in the face of the standard conservative belief that user fees — such as fuel taxes and vehicle registrations — should fund transportation.
The Davis bill arises from frustration that the Legislature cannot donkey-up and raise the gasoline tax — more than 30 years old, as anyone who drives on Louisiana roads can see. Even Alabama is ahead of us there, having raised its gasoline tax to reflect inflation and growth; just about every state in the nation has, too.
Quadrupeds know potholes as well as anybody. What they don’t know is how to fill them.
But our concern about letting the Davis bill through its first hurdle, as it probably will not finally pass, is about what it says about the big picture.
The lions and the lambs pointed out that Louisiana is today balancing the budget on Trump/Biden welfare, including a healthy increase in the federal match for the Medicaid health program.
That’s temporary. And what else is temporary? A vast proportion of the sales tax, much larger than Davis’ $40 million raid for next year.
And before that “fiscal cliff” — remember that phrase from 2016 when Gov. John Bel Edwards went into office to find the cupboards bare — there’s another one. The new president, Joe Biden, wants to raise federal income taxes.
Because of a federal income tax deduction from state taxes, when the feds take more, Louisiana families pay less to the state. It’s another fiscal cliff probably coming.
To the credit of the legislative leadership, supported in this plan by Edwards, they are trying to engineer a large tax rewrite to get Louisiana out of what is called in Capitol shorthand the FIT trap.
We don’t know how that will turn out yet. But Ways and Means members have been struggling through complex bills for days. Maybe they weren’t just being mulish but were just tired. But when the lions lay down with the lambs in the State Capitol, legislators should take note.