BARFIELD: Shouldn’t The Legislature Practice Some Transparency In Budget Negotiations?

When it was first announced that I would lead Gov. Jindal’s tax reform efforts, I was bombarded with concerns from many stakeholders about the “process.” Statements such as “the end does not justify the means” and “do not ramrod these reforms through the Legislature” were common. I heard these concerns from editorial board members, policy organizations like the Public Affairs Research Council, industry organizations and taxpayer advocates. Members of the Legislature, however, were among the first to warn me that such actions would not be well received by them.

We assured stakeholders that our process would be transparent and thorough. We spent months meeting multiple times with hundreds of representatives covering dozens of industry groups, businesses, taxpayers advocates, nonprofit organizations, religious leaders and advocates for the poor and low-income taxpayers. We personally outlined our specific ideas with almost every member of the Legislature. Weeks before the filing deadline for bills and the beginning of the 2013 legislative session, we presented our detailed plan as we continued to meet with stakeholders to discuss the specifics of the plan.

Recent news reports reveal that a significant majority of members of the House of Representatives are poised to follow the leadership of an unlikely alliance of the Legislative Black Caucus and the Fiscal Hawks (purportedly conservative Republicans), who will be working to finalize a tax increase of an estimated $500 million. In what may be the ultimate irony, we understand that these House members will utilize a rarely used procedure called “a committee meeting of the whole” that will effectively avoid the typical committee hearing process. This removes the voice of the people from knowing exactly what these elected representatives are doing with their tax money. These Republican House members will seek to consider and amend bills on the House floor pushing for a vote for final passage of a very hastily produced package of tax increases.

Is this transparency? Is this the process that will ensure the best outcome for Louisiana? Are the principles and processes that so many of my friends in the Legislature hold dear being subordinated to their desire to show their “independence” or “willingness to vote against the administration?” Is this the work of “Conservatives” in the Louisiana House of Representatives? Let’s hope not!

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