Right idea, wrong time; a day late, a dollar short; pick your pithy aphorism but regardless they accurately describe the request by state Rep. Joe Harrison to have a special session of the Louisiana Legislature called prior to this year’s regular session.
Harrison wants the subject matter to encompass the loosening of budgetary dedications that steer revenues to specified expenditures; some end up funding items well beyond any actual need and then forces the state to sweep these funds into other areas of higher priority, a cumbersome and confusing process that has turned annual and makes responsible budgeting chaotic. He also hopes that such a convening would take the opportunity to discard tax exceptions that do not stimulate economic development in a cost-effective fashion that also generate budgetary inefficiency.
Both are good ideas and worthy of pursuit. It’s just that the timing’s all wrong. The upcoming regular session the Constitution specifies as “fiscal-only;” after the session’s commencement, each member may introduce only five each non-fiscal bills, and only during these regular sessions may matters that have the effect of raising taxes be introduced. In other words, even as it is shorter than the “general” kind of regular session that occurs every even-numbered year alternating with this, it exists precisely to concentrate on the kind of fiscal matters Harrison proposes.
Thus, as the likes of Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley point out, commencing in effect two weeks early would waste taxpayer dollars for something that can and should be done, if the will exists within the chambers, during the regular session. It would have made far more sense to have called for this last year, when these matters could not be discussed in the regular session.
But back then Harrison faced a far different personal political situation. At that time, he gave his main efforts towards a picayunish pet project of creating a Department of Elderly Affairs that would have multiplied bureaucracy in order to satisfy a few special interests. The multi-year effort culminated with him being unable to push aside an existing department, as the Constitution specified there are only 20 and some are locked into it, in favor of birthing this one, but he did get a law passed to create it if a constitutional amendment subsequently passed bumping up the permitted number to 21, and another to get that measure on last fall’s ballot. Voters wisely saw through this and decisively rejected it.
At the tail end of the session as he fought to arrange all of this, the New Orleans Times-Picayune launched a series of stories on questionable expenditures by legislators, with Harrison’s name prominent among them. The Federal Bureau of Investigation eventually launched an inquiry into his alleged double-billing and improper reimbursements of expenses in his charging in duplicate both to the state and to his campaign account. The case remains open, with Harrison, after declaring he would explain the matter, never has done so other than declaring the reports “erroneous.”
So what has changed is that last year he pursued political recognition with a dubious but attention-getting plan. Now that he’s getting the wrong kind of attention, another headline grabber he produces at least can try to distract from his potential legal troubles and certain electoral difficulties in the runup to legislative elections later this year, as undoubtedly whatever opponents he draws will bash him as a corrupt politician for his claims that he deserved his mileage reimbursements, twice, because he was driving around his district in its entirety and then some every single day since the beginning of 2009.
Understand then that this call, as reflected by its poor timing, by him mainly reflects a political exercise. Its content needs discussing and this year, and if responsive to state needs legislators will have the courage to do so and come up with beneficial reforms, but not at additional and unnecessary taxpayer expense. It’s another instance, if this instance legal, of unneeded reimbursement.