The classic TV comedy “Seinfeld” has often been called a show about nothing. The huge hit from the 1990s featured lots of talking and arguing, but in the end nobody learned anything, nobody grew, and not a whole lot changed.
Sounds kind of what we’re about to see out of the Louisiana Legislature, as it embarks on its election-year session this week.
There will, at some point, be a budget based on money that the Revenue Estimating Conference eventually recognizes. This despite the fact that House Speaker Taylor Barras has spent months unilaterally blocking a formalized forecast based on the best independent analysis available from economists, for reasons that appear to be all about politics and not at all about substance.
Back in the day, way before he headed off to West Point, law school, the Louisiana Legislature and ultimately the Governor’s Mansion, John Bel…
There will likely be a $1,000 teacher pay raise — because that’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ main priority and because many of Barras’ fellow Republicans back the idea too. If the raise passes it will be a major deal, because after a decade of austerity, Louisiana teacher pay has fallen well below the regional average. But it would also pale in comparison to a raise working its way through the Legislature in neighboring Texas, where the House has backed a $1,850 average raise and the Senate a $5,000 bump. The comparison kind of makes the whole idea of $1,000 seem only marginally aspirational.
Indeed, Edwards is showing no signs of asking for anything big and sweeping this year. He’s running for reelection in a state that, in a vacuum, tends to favor Republicans, so caution is the name of the game.
Edwards will try again to push an extremely modest minimum wage hike, and legislation aimed at addressing Louisiana’s deep wage gap between men and women. But while he ran on those issues and won in 2015 and while he might get somewhere in the Senate, lawmakers in the more conservative House are once more ready to block him.
The governor’s other big campaign promises from last time — expanding Medicaid, passing criminal justice reform legislation aimed at reducing mass incarceration, and steadying the fiscal ship — are already in the “done” category. His next major initiatives will likely have to wait for a second Edwards term, if there is one.
Legislators are up for election too this fall, which is another reason to expect little. There will be another push to raise gasoline taxes in order to pay for badly needed road work, which could be a game changer. But there will also be little incentive for lawmakers to vote for a tax just before they have to go before voters.
It’s not as if this crew is itching to take on any monumental issues, particularly financial ones.
It’s almost time for Louisiana lawmakers to return to Baton Rouge for the annual legislative session, so let the budget games begin.
It took three years and 10 legislative sessions just to agree on a sales tax level that would support the services lawmakers want to provide. There was some talk during that time of using the crisis to really reevaluate Louisiana’s tax system, and even perhaps stage a constitutional convention, but the moment has passed. And face it, any legislative body that turns negotiations over small fractions of pennies into the showdown of the century isn’t exactly equipped to tackle major structural change.
All that said, once legislators gather, certain issues have a way of taking on a life of their own. A year ago, who would have predicted that lawmakers across ideological lines would decide it was time to do away with Louisiana’s outdated nonunanimous jury rules? Not me.
So maybe something unexpected and interesting will happen this year too.
The odds appear stacked against much progress, though. There will be lots of posturing, as there always is when politicians are focused on getting elected, but chances are it won’t add up to all that much.
Of course, none of that means it won’t be a good show.