Less that 24 hours after a mudslide of negativity seemingly buried hopes of scaling the fiscal cliff, House Speaker Taylor Barras announced they would make one more rescue attempt.
“We will convene at ten a.m. Friday morning. My intent is to go through the entire calendar – up or down, do or die. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
More that a few House members appeared stunned by the announcement, while others shook their heads and grumbled. A majority clearly expected they would be adjourning sine die Thursday, giving up and going home. The Speaker had narrowly forestalled such a motion, prepared by Representative Barry Ivey, Wednesday night.
Shutting down the session, however, requires concurrence by the Senate. And most members of the upper chamber are less than happy about being as yet unable to do what they were called into session to do.
One senator I greeted Thursday, telling him,”It’s good to see you in place, ready to work,” replied acidly, “We’ve been here all along—mostly stuck down in our offices, watching that farce play out on the other side.”
Senator Fred Mills (R-Parks), commenting on the lack of results as compared to the cost of the special session, said, “If you’re looking for a return on investment from a taxpayer standpoint, it has not been good.”
At an average of $60,000 per day, the eleven elapsed days of of the special session have cost approximately $660,000 thus far.
But Senator Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), who served in the House from 1975-2007 before moving to the Senate, said simply, “We don’t need to quit.”
In fact, the Senate Finance Committee, leading by example, worked Thursday, holding a hearing on SB 8, by Senator Rick Ward (R-Port Allen). The bill provides for the state’s fiscal transparency website. Unlike the highly touted “Louisiana Checkbook” proposed by Speaker Taylor Barras’ HB 29, this measure supports the upgrading and expansion of the current LaTrac website – a goal the administration was already pursuing.
Ward told the committee, “You’ve heard Ohio did their checkbook website for next to nothing, and that it only cost $850,000 to run. That’s per year – and they spent $150-million to get it ready to run.”
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said, “We expect to have the enhanced website online in a month. Some of the requested features – graphs and charts – will take a bit longer. The complete upgrade, including bringing every state agency into the system, will be complete by October 2021.”
Senator Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) says he doesn’t understand the big push to spend $30-million on a shiny new website, when they’re here in special session to address a revenue shortfall.
“It’s like we don’t have enough money for groceries, but we still buy a new set of golf clubs,” Fannin remarked. “Those same people that want this ‘checkbook’ are the same people saying ‘cut government.’ I support transparency, but the timing is terrible for this. When you don’t have any money, you don’t keep spending new money.”
Still, the measure was voted through to the full Senate for consideration.
So, what will the House be voting on today in its final effort to dig the session and the state budget out of the mire?
“The bills that remain on the calendar are four revenue bills,” Speaker Barras said. “We have two additional reform bills, a couple of other bills that members have entered that we will consider. Then we also have the constitutional amendment for the spending limit. And we have Representative Dwight’s bill.”
Despite the sales tax measure’s resounding 37-68 defeat Wednesday night, the Speaker is fixated on that being the only viable solution to the fiscal cliff.
“That bill, members, is the core to this debate, and the core to the dollars that are important to solving as much of this deficit as we can,” Barras told the full House Thursday night.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it is “do or die”. The only question remaining is, “For whom?”