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An Open Letter to Rep. Lance Harris

Re: Your letter to the governor about the third special session.

Dear Lance,

It was kind of you to inform Gov. John Bel Edwards of his “right as chief executive of the state to set the agenda” for any special legislative session that he may call, while essentially demanding inclusion of certain items, backed by the not-so-veiled threat of repeated inaction by your delegation.

A question for you, however: Why on earth do you think he would want to accede to your demands? While it is clear from your letter that you believe you hold the whip hand, let’s look more closely at what you’re requesting, and – as you asked in your letter – “consider the results of the two previous special sessions.”

First, you ask the governor to “Sign SB13 (Ward) – The Louisiana Checkbook.” Fair enough, though it’s interesting to note that it took the combined efforts of Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen) and Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) to get this passed in the just-ended second special session.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) author the same bill in the first 2018 special session, the 2018 regular session and then again in the second special session? And isn’t it true that despite the Speaker’s presumed clout, each iteration of the bill was roadblocked in the Senate Finance Committee?

Secondly, you ask Gov. Edwards to “Reconsider HB12 & HB15 from the first special session of 2018 (Barras), which as you describe, “provides for changes in the expenditure limit calculation.” Looking at the official records to refresh my memory, it appears those bills, authored by the Speaker, never got heard in Senate Finance that session.

Subsequently, the Speaker brought them back during the 2018 regular session, as HB 530 and HB 540. The records indicate those bills never made it out of the House Appropriations Committee. Aren’t you on that committee, sir, and isn’t it controlled by members of your delegation?

Third, you request the governor “give the legislative auditor the authority to audit the records of any state agency for the purpose of auditing programs that expend taxpayer funds and ensuring legal compliance.”

I believe the Legislative Auditor answers to the legislative branch of government, not to the executive branch.

Therefore, the governor cannot “give” the auditor the authority. Only you and your peers in the House and Senate can do so.

Lastly, I find a particular statement in your letter most curious, to say the least. You say: “To ask for taxes without reform could very well yield a similar result to previous attempts at the same.”

Are you referring to the tax reform you promised in 2013, when you said, “We will continue to work on the issue so that we can craft a responsible way to achieve our objectives in reforming the tax code in the future,” after then-Gov. Bobby Jindal pulled his plan to do away with state income tax?

Or are you referencing long-term systemic tax reform, as you did in a statement in June 2016, which said, “We look forward to working with our bipartisan commission that will make long-term tax and budgetary recommendations in September. House Republicans understand that we need major reform at the foundation of our government. We will continue to be committed to that cause.”

Weren’t those recommendations, from the Tax Reform Task Force, incorporated into Rep. Ivey’s 2017 fiscal session bills, few of which made it to the House floor, and weren’t they defeated there? And aren’t those reforms what you were talking about when you told him, “We don’t want the Democratic governor re-elected, and we don’t want to give him a political win by doing tax reform”?

And where, in light of your 2013 promise, does your statement during the first special session this year fit in? You know the one – “Tax reform is off the table.”

Despite your braggadocio regarding the “millions of Louisiana residents we represent” and the insistence that your demands are “bipartisan solutions”, it appears that you are having trouble delivering on your presumed control of the entire process. I point in particular to the fact of the vote on your HB 27, to accept the conference committee report on the night of June 4, 2018. There were only 38 yeas, on a vote requiring 70 to pass, weren’t there?

It certainly appears that no Democrats voted yea, while 23 Republicans voted nay. Hardly “bi-partisan” in your favor, sir.

I do, however, concur with one particular statement in your letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards: “We ask that you consider the results of the two previous special sessions.”

Sincerely,
Sue Lincoln
The Bayou Brief

Here is the letter from the House Republican Delegation:

June 7, 2018

The Honorable John Bel Edwards
Governor
State Capitol, Fourth Floor
BY HAND

Governor Edwards,

On behalf of the Republican Delegation of the Louisiana House of Representatives and the millions of Louisiana residents we represent, we ask that you put careful consideration into the scope and inclusions of your call for our third extraordinary session of 2018 to include structural budgetary reform and cost savings measures in lieu of taxes alone.

While it is your right as the chief executive of the state to set the agenda for any special legislative session that you call, we ask that you consider the results of the two previous special sessions and know that our constituents continue to resoundingly tell us that state government should live within its means.

We agree in the necessity of funding our essential priorities. We also believe that it is necessary to enact transparent budgeting and spending policies and reduce the size of state government.

We sincerely hope that you will consider supporting and including the following bipartisan solutions in your call. To ask for taxes without reform could very well yield a similar result to previous attempts at the same.

– Sign SB13 (Ward) – The Louisiana Checkbook.
– Reconsider HB12 & HB15 from the first special session of 2018 (Barras) – Provides for changes in the expenditure limit calculation.
– Give the legislative auditor the authority to audit the records of any state agency for the purpose of auditing programs that expend taxpayer funds and ensuring legal compliance.

Before we enact yet another tax, it is imperative that the taxpayers see that you are willing to allow the legislature the ability to identify areas of waste, fraud, and abuse in addition to allowing for a transparent and savings-minded approach to government spending.

We remain committed to the principals our constituents sent us to Baton Rouge to stand for. We also believe our constituents expect us to work for solutions that ensure Louisiana government funds its critical priorities, as demonstrated by our continued efforts to meet you more than half-way. We remain committed to working in good faith for the betterment of Louisiana.

Sincerely,

J. Lance Harris
Chairman

Photo credit: Sarah Gamard. 

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