Virtually everyone involved with the Louisiana legislature expects that any time now, Gov. John Bel Edwards will issue a call for a special session to deal with the state budget deficit projected at some $750 million for the current fiscal year and $1.9 billion for the next fiscal year. That special session is thought to begin on Feb. 15 and last for three weeks, giving legislators a week off before the regular legislative session begins March 14.
But what’s not know yet is what items will be debated in that special session or how broad it will be.
We had discussed here at the Hayride the special session’s agenda – and specifically, that if all Edwards were to put on the table for the special session was $2 billion in tax increases so as to fuel government of the same or expanded size going forward, then the proper response for those legislators should be to refuse to attend the special session and deny a quorum to the governor. Edwards is the official bearing ultimate responsibility for balancing the budget, and if his solution is tax increases alone, he could be forced to take on the lonely task of finding cuts in the state budget sufficient to bring it into balance without the help of the legislature, and the legislators could then bank those cuts to use going forward in the regular session to solve the state’s budget.
That isn’t quite the subject matter of the letter the Republican legislative delegations sent to Edwards this morning, but there are emanations of it coming out of the message Danny Martiny and Lance Harris delivered to him. The letter, which via LAPolitics.com we have below, makes a demand in the way of a suggestion that Edwards open the special session’s agenda up to a debate on several sacred cows in Louisiana’s budget – like, for example, Medicaid reform which state treasurer John Kennedy has been very vocal about undertaking as a means of putting Louisiana’s fiscal house in order, or pension reform.
And it also rejects upfront the idea of tax increases which hit specific classes of people, which is a brushback against some of the ideas bandied about to tax the business community or the oil and gas industry. The letter informs the governor that any tax increase he expects to pass must be “broadly applied and does not seek out any particular taxpayer or group to bear the brunt of the burden; based on data, best practices and sound tax policy that helps create a more fair, efficient and competitive tax code; and limited to what is absolutely necessary to fund vital governmental operations, recognizing every additional dollar will come at a real sacrifice to families and employers.”
It’s not what you would call a strongly-worded letter, but it does give Edwards the unmistakable threat that if he expects GOP help in tax increases as a primary means of balancing the budget he’s going to get nowhere.
So the gauntlet has been thrown down. The question now is whether the legislators actually have the sand to back it up.