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Monday, April 24, 2017

WELCOME TO WASHINGTON

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Louisiana Legislature turning into a mini-D.C.

When Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the Legislature at the beginning of the current session, he pleaded with legislators not to turn Louisiana into another Washington, D.C. He was referring, of course, to the partisan politics playing out on the national stage. But those words fell on deaf ears in Baton Rouge.

Actually, partisan politics began immediately after Edwards was elected in November 2015. Republicans were astounded that a Democrat could be elected in the blood-red state of Louisiana. It was their own fault, however. They chose as their standardbearer U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whose past came back to haunt him. The election was not a fluke, as some Republicans would have you believe. Edwards won with 56 percent of the vote.

Still, much like Washington did with President Barack Obama, Republicans are doing the same thing to Edwards. Remember Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying the GOP’s top priority was making sure Obama was not re-elected? That didn’t work out so well for Republicans. Obama was re-elected. It seems that’s the same attitude of Republicans in Louisiana – make sure Edwards is not re-elected.

They have a majority in both houses of the Legislature to thwart any initiatives put forth by Edwards. Never mind that the state has serious budgetary problems. The first order of business is to make sure that plans put forth by Edwards do not succeed. Sounds a lot like Washington, doesn’t it? To make matters worse, Edwards has no allies. Every statewide elected official is a Republican, and every member of Congress is a Republican, except for U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans.

Then you have state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who defeated incumbent Buddy Caldwell. Landry also got 56 percent of the vote, by the way. He immediately decided that Edwards was a one-term governor and began running for the office himself. Landry has been a thorn in Edwards’ side since Day One. He has filed lawsuits against the governor, always alerting the media before the governor to make sure he gets the proper spin on the story. Edwards called it another “dog and pony show.”

Now you have a Republican journalist, who writes for this publication, calling Edwards the “accidental” governor. There is nothing accidental about getting 56 percent of the vote. The Republicans put their money on the wrong horse and got taken to the cleaners. They had other options, but decided to stick with Vitter. But using the term “accidental” is demeaning to the office and to Edwards himself. He won the election fair and square. This is just another example of how Republicans are fixated on the next governor’s election rather than with solving the state’s fiscal problems.

That brings us to the current session of the Legislature. Edwards has submitted legislation, which makes up the bulk of his tax reform package. The Commercial Activity Tax, known as CAT, ensures that all business entities in Louisiana pay their fair share of taxes, while protecting small businesses. The CAT is part of a broad tax and spending reform package proposed by Edwards to avoid the fiscal cliff on July 1, 2018. The package includes providing a tax cut to more than 90 percent of individual income tax filers and replaces revenue the state will lose when the fifth penny of sales taxes expires in Fiscal Year 2019.

In FY 2015, 80 percent of Louisiana corporations, or 80,000 out of 101,000, did not pay any state income tax. According to the Louisiana Department of Revenue, in FY 2016, 39 percent of Louisiana’s revenue came from individual income taxes, 39 percent came from the sales tax, while only 3 percent came from corporate taxes.

Nevertheless, the governor’s plan has not been well received in the Legislature. Republican members are coming up with their own plans and proposals. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and other business lobbyists have become involved and are opposed to the taxes on businesses – and they have a lot of influence with legislators.

The governor’s comprehensive plan includes:

• Allowing the fifth penny of sales tax to be removed in FY 2019.

• Cutting state income taxes for more than 90 percent of individuals in Louisiana while eliminating the deductibility of federal income taxes.

• Cleaning the remaining pennies of sales tax and expanding the sale tax base to apply to more services, as recommended by the bipartisan task force created by the Legislature.

How the plan eventually exits the Legislature is anyone’s guess. Even some Democratic members of the Legislature are said to be lukewarm toward Edwards’ plan, mainly because they have not received any favors from the governor in the form of capital outlay funds. The problem there is there is very little money to fund capital outlay projects. Edwards needs, and hopefully will eventually get, their support.

There is a long way to go in this session, which doesn’t end until June 6. It will be interesting to see how the Democratic governor fares with his proposals in a majority-Republican Legislature. After all, the next governor’s election is only a little over two years away in 2019.

Lou Gehrig Burnett, an award-winning journalist, has been involved with politics for 44 years and was a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for 27 years. He also served as executive assistant to former Shreveport Mayor “Bo” Williams. Burnett is the publisher of the weekly “FaxNet Update” and can be reached at 861-0552 or louburnett@comcast.net.

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