Editorial: The nihilists in the Louisiana state legislature_lowres

State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, right, talks with state Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans, during Monday’s debate on the Louisiana House floor.

On June 4, the day the website WalletHub declared Louisiana to have the worst economy of all 50 states, the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature demonstrated that it’s a big part of the problem. In the regular legislative session, lawmakers failed to adopt a fully funded state budget, prompting Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to veto the spending plan. Legislators cut that session short so they could reconvene for a special session dedicated to fiscal matters. They had until midnight June 4 to get the job done. The result was a shameful exercise that, once again, failed to produce a fully funded budget.

Their second spending plan would drastically cut funding for TOPS college scholarships and public universities, yet the GOP-dominated House rejected two measures that could have solved the problem. The final minutes of the session, in fact, resembled The Jerry Springer Show, with House members literally jumping from their chairs and screaming at each other as Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh deliberately dawdled at the mic to run out the clock.

Lawmakers now must gather in yet another special session (at a cost to taxpayers of about $60,000 per day) before the new fiscal year begins July 1. It will be the seventh special session in Edwards’ two-and-a-half years in office. Given the same cast of obstinate House Republicans, it’s not clear another special session will change anything — but hopefully voters are seeing clearly who’s responsible for the partisan gridlock.

[jump] In stark contrast to the House, a bipartisan supermajority in the state Senate approved a half-penny sales tax extension to replace a “temporary” one-cent levy that expires June 30. The temporary tax’s expiration leaves a nearly $650 million hole in the state budget. When the House considered the Senate-approved half-cent sales tax on June 4, Appropriations Committee chair Cameron Henry, GOP Delegation chair Lance Harris and House Speaker Taylor Barras did all they could to kill the measure and crater the special session. The Senate-approved budget fix failed by a mere six votes.

The House’s Republican leadership is hell-bent on denying Edwards a “win” — even if it means making Louisiana citizens big losers. Henry, Harris, Barras and others preferred a one-third penny sales tax — piously invoking conservative principles — but a vote on their preferred plan in the final minutes failed by more than 30 votes.

Let’s be clear: The difference between a half-cent sales tax and a one-third-cent sales tax is a grand total of 17 cents on a $100 purchase. Failure to fully fund TOPS, universities and health care will cost Louisianans millions.

There’s nothing “conservative” about failing to budget responsibly. Forcing Louisiana into yet another special session to score cheap political points likewise is not conservative. And holding hospitals, universities, the poor and the sick hostage to a partisan sideshow is a nihilist approach to governance.

Given a choice between keeping half the expiring sales tax and slashing vital services such as health care and higher education, most voters would take the sales tax and hope for a better solution down the road.

Louisiana voters deserve better options, of course. To get those options, they need better legislators.