LACK OF LEADERSHIP
‘This is not the way responsible, responsive government works’
Ever wonder about the cost of two special sessions of the state Legislature bookending the regular session of the body?
Of course, those costs pale in comparison to the costs in terms of the consistent devaluations of our higher education, health care and other state systems that have suffered an abysmal lack of legislative leadership over the last several years.
But it’s a fair question given the fact many of the people “serving” in the Legislature have had those years to work together to correct the structural problems in how the state pays for its obligations and dedications, but consistently deferred this responsibility. And now we’re paying the cost of not one but perhaps three sessions of the Louisiana Legislature this year.
While it appears lawmakers managed to fund all but about $30 million of the current budget year’s $900 million shortfall with a variety of cuts and tax increases, their work is far from finished.
The special session that ended last Wednesday helps close what was an estimated $2 billion gap for the next fiscal year, narrowing it to an estimated $800 million. But legislators will be able to do precious little about resolving that $800 million deficit in their regular session unless their efforts are limited to more catastrophic cuts to higher education, healthcare, TOPS and other programs the funding for which isn’t constitutionally protected.
As it happens, the state constitution precludes consideration of new tax measures in a regular session during an even-numbered year – ergo the possibility of yet another special legislative session to address the new fiscal year’s budget hole.
In the recently completed special session, lawmakers found much to cut but also provided for a much needed infusion of revenue to state coffers through tax increases that included adding another penny to the state sales tax, absent many of the exemptions that apply to the existing four pennies of the tax.
This new penny is to expire in 27 months. Sin taxes were also increased – cigarettes and alcohol will cost more, and a variety of business related tax measures will add to the state’s revenue stream.
Revenues raised vary.
Reinstating the 2.5 percent car rental tax that expired four years ago will raise $800,000 for the current budget, and add $5 million per year thereafter.
The alcohol tax increase puts another 4.7 million in the current budget and long term adds just over $19 million a year. Revenues raised as a result of other taxes haven’t yet been determined. Big infusions to the current budget also included using $128.5 million from the state’s rainy day fund, and $200 million in BP funding.
But session was turbulent and partisan and did nothing in the long run to structurally change and enhance Louisiana’s fiscal policy and budget process. The three-week conclave ended dramatically with critical votes coming in the last 15 minutes of the session.
Following adjournment of the session, Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “We could have done better. This was not our best day. I can’t stress that enough.”
Edwards is right. This is not the way responsible, responsive government works.
And that should be the challenge of Louisiana residents to our lawmakers: It is time to do better – much better.
This year, lawmakers will have at least two, and likely three, opportunities to get this business of responsible government right.
Our state cannot afford to jump from one fiscal crisis to another every year jeopardizing critical services, education and a host of other vital programs – and risking our best and brightest looking for state stability and above all, responsible state legislative leadership from all members and a consistent demonstration of what it means to lead.
Marty Carlson, a freelance writer, has been covering local news for the past 17 years. She can be reached via email at martycarlson1218@ gmail.com.