There’s a lot to unpack from this story emanating from a Gov. John Bel Edwards press release which originally popped, to very little fanfare, a week ago. We’ve been a bit confused about it from the start, on two main themes.
First, here’s what we’re talking about…
Gov. John Bel Edwards says he can’t “wrap my head around the idea” that Congress passed special disaster tax breaks for victims of this year’s hurricanes while leaving out victims of last year’s flooding that wrecked parts of south Louisiana.
Congress included the tax relief in the six-month extension of the Federal Aviation Administration that passed last week.
The bill includes five tax relief provisions for victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, allowing, for example, money from retirement accounts to be withdrawn without penalty for storm-related expenses.
Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation unsuccessfully sought similar tax relief after the August 2016 floods.
Edwards said in a statement Wednesday that Louisiana understands hurricane victims’ suffering. He added: “Congress shouldn’t be in the business of pitting storm victims against one another.”
“We in Louisiana understand the pain and suffering the victims of these hurricanes are going through, and our hearts break for their loss. However, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the idea that victims of last year’s historic flooding were left out of this tax relief package from Congress. To the victims in Louisiana that makes absolutely no sense. More than 193,000 homes and businesses were damaged from a no-name storm that dropped 7 trillion gallons of water over South Louisiana in three days. That’s enough water to fill Lake Pontchartrain about four times. If that doesn’t call for some sort of tax relief for the people of Louisiana, I don’t know what does. I know members of our congressional delegation have been working on this issue, and I stand ready to work with them and other members of Congress to ensure our people get the relief they need. Congress shouldn’t be in the business of pitting storm victims against one another, but instead, providing adequate support when it’s warranted.”
We’re a bit perplexed by this.
First of all, there’s the obvious – which is since when does John Bel Edwards want to cut anybody’s taxes? Did he offer tax relief at the state level to flood victims, or did he just roll full steam ahead with the $2 billion in tax increases he ran through the legislature last year on threats of killing college football in Louisiana among other things?
Now…what? He’s a supply-sider? He thinks allowing flood victims to tap into retirement accounts without tax consequences is an effective way to do flood relief? Well, we agree – but there has been zero evidence that Edwards is willing to use his considerable influence over state tax policy to put his money where his mouth is.
Yes, Edwards sent a letter to then-president Barack Obama about this subject, which in his press release he claims addressed the type of tax relief he’s now putting on the “what about me?” act for. Read it here, and see if you can find any specific request for tax relief anywhere in the letter. He’s got the CCBG grants for flood recovery, he’s got mental health money, he has the Comite River Diversion Canal funding in there, he talks about highway money, he’s got a Hazard Mitigation money request in there, and at the end he makes a vague statement about legislation Rep. Charles Boustany was then working on that had to do with taxes – but he doesn’t get to that until the end of Page 2 in a letter that’s 2 1/4 pages long.
That’s what passes for evidence John Bel Edwards gave a damn about tax relief for flood victims last year. There’s a good bit more evidence he gave no such damn.
After all, he’s now sitting on well over a billion dollars of flood relief money and the indication is he can’t spend it all because he was so late in getting the apparatus to disperse it up and running that the prospective recipients have largely moved on. They didn’t want to wait on the government for a year, so they fixed their houses up on their own and now the last thing they have time for is to run the gauntlet of a government bureaucracy to catch a check. It never occurred to Edwards that one way to leverage that flood relief was to reimburse people who had to suffer tax penalties for having tapped into retirement accounts to get construction crews into their places for those tax penalties? If he’s doing that then he’s not complaining about that benefit being afforded to the Harvey and Irma victims; the fact he’s complaining means he’s not all that aggressive about shoveling that money out the door to help folks who took some initiative and made some sacrifices to put their house in order after that storm last August.
So that’s the second thing we’re perplexed about – which is this guy is now trying to glom on to Harvey aid based on what? That somebody crafted a better recovery package than he got for Louisiana last year?
Hey John Bel – don’t you dare blame this on President Trump. Trump wasn’t in office when Louisiana flooded. Your guy Barack Obama was. And let’s not forget that around this time last year when you went to Washington to make your ask for aid you sat down with Harry Reid and not David Vitter or Bill Cassidy, and before long the narrative was that Louisiana’s Republicans had voted against a bloated Hurricane Sandy recovery package and therefore flood recovery money would have to be tied to bailing out the water system in Flint, Michigan after the Democrats who run that city had ruined it. Which, thankfully, didn’t happen – mostly because Trump won the election.
Remember all that? We talked about it a lot last year. Nobody else in Louisiana’s media did, of course.
Which is the third thing we’re confused about. Actually, no – we’re not confused at all. We just find this noteworthy.
When we talk to Republican voters here and there in our daily travels, one of the things they remark to us often about is how they can’t understand John Bel Edwards’ high-50’s approval rating in a deep red state like Louisiana. Our response is usually that (1) so far we haven’t had any hot-mic meltdowns like Kathleen Blanco had about calling in the National Guard post-Katrina, (2) we’ve had three straight years of non-stop electioneering in this state and people are politics’ed-out, so nobody is paying attention to what Edwards is up to right now, and (3) Bobby Jindal would have left office with an 80 percent approval rating if he’d had the kind of kid-gloves treatment from the state’s major newspapers that Edwards received.
And this is a damn good example of that. When John Bel Edwards pops off a poorly-disguised partisan attack on Louisiana’s congressional delegation (almost all of whom are Republicans) complaining about tax relief that Greg Abbott and Rick Scott did a hell of a lot better job of asking for than he did, you’d expect that over the next week somebody in Louisiana’s media would call him out for essentially admitting he’d done an incomplete – to put it charitably – job with flood recovery.
And yet the only reporting on this is a short Associated Press regurgitation of Edwards’ press release. Louisiana’s mainstream media didn’t do journalism on this; they did stenography.
What we’re confused about is why the people of this state put up with being so poorly served.