“We’ve been through this song and dance before. The problems that we face are not new,” Governor John Bel Edwards said, as he addressed the joint session of the Legislature at the start of this, his fifth called special session in just over two years in office.
“I know there are a few of you who believe I should not have called this special session. There are even a couple of you who believe there is no fiscal cliff. There are even those of you who acknowledge that there is a fiscal cliff, although you don’t want to fix it,” the Governor said in his speech.
“For those of you who acknowledge that there is a cliff, and propose that the only solution is to make spending cuts, as I’ve told you before, I can respect that position. I disagree with it, but I can respect it. What is disrespectful to the people and families of this state is for you to take that position and then also insist that you are not the one that has to make the tough and painful choices. If you want to reduce government spending, propose the specific cuts and put your name on them. But let’s be honest about one thing when you say that government should spend less. What you really mean is that government should do less.”
Governor Edwards then gave the assembled legislators some visible examples of “doing less” – singling out his own guests for the occasion. He introduced Brenna Satterfeal, a Southeastern University freshman majoring in Special Education, who fears she’ll have to drop out if TOPS isn’t funded.
He also acknowledged ARC of Louisiana director Kelly Monroe, whose organization serves many state residents with disabilities, telling lawmakers 55 to 60 percent of the people ARC serves will lose their benefits without a fix to the fiscal cliff. Further, ARC will have to layoff more than half its workforce – an estimated loss of 2000 jobs.
The governor also gave legislators an inescapable reminder of what a “cuts-only” approach this time will do, singling out Children’s Choice waiver recipient Karina Haines, and her mother Tina – both wearing the familiar yellow shirts of disabilities advocates. For while the lobby of the House chambers was a sea of yellow shirts prior to the session convening, the vast majority of Republican House members avoided them entirely, by slipping in a side door.
“The problems we face are not new,” Edwards reminded the legislature. “The fiscal cliff is the result of more than $1.3 billion in temporary revenue set to fall of the books June 30th. And yes, that revenue was supposed to serve as a bridge to long-term tax reform. That was the promise that we made to the people of Louisiana.”
That’s a major concern for state Senator Troy Carter of New Orleans. The chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus says he’s “not terribly confident” this session can solve the problem.
“We know that we can’t cut ourselves out of this deficit,” Carter says. “We know that we can’t tax ourselves out of this deficit. Extending the fifth penny of sales tax is dishonest to the people of Louisiana, because we promised we wouldn’t.
We don’t have the luxury of being as divided as some would want us to be,” Carter added.
The governor addressed the partisan divide, as well, lobbing a couple of verbal grenades at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and its president, Stephen Waguespack.
“We have to be more concerned with Louisiana’s future than what score we might receive from a partisan political organization masquerading as a trade association,” Edwards said, as he neared the end of his speech. He was referring to LABI’s annual “Legislative Scorecard”, which grades lawmakers on how closely their votes conform to LABI’s position on various bills.
And the governor was clearly referring to Waguespack – who served as former Governor Bobby Jindal’s chief-of-staff – when he added, “We surely can’t afford to outsource our decision-making to the principal architects of the mess we are trying to clean up.
Waguespack, who was not in attendance at the Capitol Monday, tweeted a response: “We need more bipartisan solutions and less partisan criticisms. Speech unfortunately prioritized political shots over specific policy proposals.”
Yet the governor’s address concluded with a plea to leave partisanship out of the decision lawmakers will be making.
“For the next 17 days, I am asking you not to think only as Democrats or Republicans, but first and foremost as Louisianans. We all want the same things,” Edwards said. There is only one ‘side’ to be on here and that is on the side of the people of our great state who are tired of hearing about the same problems year after year with no resolution.”
What does Louisiana’s most experienced lawmaker think the outcome of this session will be?
I’m not sure there will be a long-term resolution like there ought to be,” Senate President John Alario said, with a slow shake of his head, and a sigh.
“We have to wait on the House.”