Following the failure to pass any tax reform measures during the 2017 regular legislative session, two things became clear: (1) a 2018 special session would be necessary, and (2) Governor John Bel Edwards hoped it could be as amicable as a church potluck supper, with everyone bringing something to the table.
Yet no matter how often the governor reminded House leaders of the invitation, they and members of their “tighten your belt” faction were reluctant to even consider breaking bread together. On the other hand, they had no compunctions about pouring from their bottles of whine.
House Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) led off in September, with his Facebook video saying, “The governor has now started ‘fear season’ – sending out information on things that are going to be cut if he doesn’t get all the money he wants.”
Representative Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) imbibed his whine repeatedly, appearing regularly on his hometown’s KEEL -710 radio, saying things like, “We need to stop talking about putting our hands deeper in the pockets of the taxpayer of Louisiana,” and, “Whenever you hear them talking about a compromise, it means Republicans doing what the governor wants.”
House Speaker Taylor Barras has taken a few sips himself, telling the Moon Griffon Show audience, “Their definition of reform is anything that’s got a billion dollars tied to it,” and “We want some spending and budget reforms.”
When House leadership and the conservative cadre finally submitted their RSVP to this supper, what did they want to bring? “Just desserts”.
In a state with the third-highest poverty rate in the nation, they want those receiving Medicaid benefits to prove their worth – by requiring them to work, to pay premiums for this insurance, and make co-payments for benefits received.
They want a year-to-year cap placed on all state spending.
And then there’s the real cream puff – the“Louisiana Checkbook” website.
Nine of the first fifteen House bills filed for this special session address those items.
Yet among the 23 House bills filed for the special session by the close of business Friday, fourteen measures attempt to add some nutrition to the starvation budget necessitated by the fiscal cliff. Democrats, like Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger of New Orleans, and Ted James of Baton Rouge are bringing the meat and potatoes of recommended tax system reforms; including reducing the state-allowed amount of federal excess itemized deductions, imposing sales tax on services, and reducing the rebatable amount of corporate taxes paid.
Three of the House’s more moderate Republicans are bringing sustenance, as well. Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston) has a bill to compress income tax brackets, along with one to permanently reduce allowable corporate tax deductions. Both Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) and Stephen Dwight (R-Lake Charles) have measures to permanently and completely clean the four pennies of state sales tax that remain after the fifth penny expires June 30 this year.
It remains to be seen whether the 21-member House Ways and Means Committee – comprised of 13 Republicans and 8 Democrats – will allow any of these items to be brought out of the kitchen and served to the full membership. Nine of the committee’s GOP members can be deemed part of the “tighten your belt” coalition. The other four Republicans have previously broken ranks with that group – something House leadership should consider as cautionary.
They should also be cognizant of results of a recent public opinion poll. Conducted February 7-12 by Anzalone Lizst Grove Research, the statewide commissioned poll surveyed 600 likely voters and found that 54% blame the fiscal cliff on “too many tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, while just 36% see it as a result of “not enough spending cuts.”
When given a choice between finding new revenue or cutting the state budget, a better than 2:1 majority prefers to “identify new revenue, even if it means raising taxes, to fill the budget shortfall” (58%) over “cutting one billion dollars from the state budget, which would fall largely on education and healthcare funding” (26%).
The poll also showed 84% of surveyed voters said the Legislature should work with the Governor to find a way to replace expiring revenue. That included 78% of all Republicans queried, as well as 77% of Independents.
When asked, “If your legislator worked with Governor Edwards to replace the expiring revenue, and avoid cuts to education and healthcare funding, would you be more or less likely to support that legislator?”, the results were as follows: overall, 78% were more likely to support the particular lawmaker, with 84% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, and 76% of Independents saying “more likely.”
So despite all the legislative posturing, it appears the people – who will be rating lawmakers and the governor’s job performances at the ballot box next year – want a bi-partisan buffet served up when the special session convenes at 4 p.m. Monday.
Shall we say grace?