House meets 060217 (copy)

For more than 30 years, I’ve summarized Louisiana legislative sessions with my annual “Da Winnas & Da Loozas” column. I use that paradigm because every issue, large or small, presents lawmakers with a binary choice: yes or no. There is no “maybe” button on legislators’ desks. And every important issue is lobbied intensely by powerful interests. Some win, some lose.

But that’s far from the only way to analyze our Legislature’s annual exercise in republican (with a small “r”) government. So, starting this year, I’m going to present a column called “Other voices” — analysis from longtime legislative watchdogs who have their own takes on what happened.

I’ve chosen three respected sources for this inaugural exercise: the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR); the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL); and the Louisiana Budget Project (LBP). All have reform credentials, though they approach things from different perspectives. Business and civic leaders comprise the boards of PAR and CABL; LBP tilts decidedly in favor of working families. Interestingly, all three groups are led by former Capitol correspondents.

Here’s a sampling of their analyses:

PAR — “Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the 2019 legislative season was the lack of extraordinary sessions. … One major factor — and the most important characteristic of this session — was the existence of a more stable budget outlook based on a sales tax revenue stream established last year after much political wrangling. The 2019 session was the least contentious fiscal debate since the post-Katrina era. There were no mid-year budget cuts to adjust around, no drawdowns on the state rainy day fund and no obvious short-term gimmicks to prop up the budget. The main theme was which programs to expand, not which to cut.” (www.parlouisiana.org)

CABL — “In the end, the governor’s plan for a $1,000 pay raise for teachers and $500 for support workers won the day, as did his plan to send almost $40 million to schools. Early childhood education got some additional funding — though it’s short of what’s really needed — and so did higher education. For the last several years at least, most of this would have been pretty much unthinkable.

“One big surprise this year was the passage of [House Bill] 578, which will ultimately send almost $700 million dollars from the BP oil settlement toward a variety of highway infrastructure projects that will eventually touch virtually every region of the state. Not surprising was the fact that an effort to increase the fuel tax to fund other transportation projects never got off the ground.” (www.cabl.org)

LBP — “Medicaid also received a funding boost, including higher reimbursement rates for providers of home- and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities, and higher payments for hospitals and other care providers. Making these new investments required the Legislature to reject several attempts to roll back the [2018] revenue compromise and enact new, costly tax breaks.

“But lawmakers also rejected efforts to make Louisiana’s tax structure more fair and competitive and once again turned their backs on low-income workers by refusing to pass a state minimum wage or give local communities the right to establish wage and benefit levels on their own.” (www.labudget.org)

There’s much more on their websites. Check it out.