HITHER AND YON: Another Day, Another Legislative Session

They’re back at it again today, and they won’t stop for another three months.

The Louisiana Legislature comes back to Baton Rouge on Monday (March 14) just days after a contentious three and half week special session on fiscal issues that disappointed many and left one legislative leader in tears at its end.

Several lawmakers expect to enter the three month “regular” session next week with a cloud hanging over them from the special session that ended Wednesday.

Legislators failed to resolve the financial deficit for this budget cycle or the next one over the past month. The hole for the fiscal cycle starting July 1 is estimated to be as much as $800 million and will make piecing together the next state budget during the regular session very difficult.

Lawmakers have to contend with such a large shortfall because they couldn’t agree on a strategy for closing the budget gap before the special session ended. The protracted standoff in the Legislature over the spending cuts and taxes during the special session frayed some relationships. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, even accused House leaders of “playing games,” though he said he is ready to put the disagreements behind him.

“Let’s give each other a hug and move on,” he said.

Virtually everything that will be pushed in this session will be bad news.

First, there will be a constant call for another special session, because this isn’t a fiscal session and by law you can’t raise taxes unless you’re in a fiscal session. And the Legislature didn’t raise taxes enough in the special session that ended last week, apparently.

There is, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards, an $800 million budget deficit. That number is disputed, though – and legislators, particularly in the House, have made no secret of their poor opinion of the scoring of fiscal notes and other projections they’re expected to work within. That distrust is likely going to make restructuring of state budget matters difficult given the lack of accepted knowledge of how big the problem really is.

You’ll also see an effort to scale back the TOPS program, because a majority in the legislature sees its cost as getting out of control. But nobody seems to understand that TOPS is funding for higher education, so cutting TOPS is cutting higher ed – something they all howl about. The question ought to be asked why it is that legislators think it’s so terrible to cut funding to colleges which comes directly from the legislature, but have less concerns about funding which comes from the choice of students who have earned TOPS scholarships.

And you’ll see a full-on assault by the governor on school choice in Louisiana. Edwards’ primary mission will be to give local school boards the ability to claw back schools taken away from them for poor performance, and he’ll be agitating in favor of legislation to do that. Look for a major fight there, though he’s not likely to win it in Rep. Nancy Landry’s House Education Committee. Look for all-out war between Edwards and Landry, and look for her to be demonized by teacher unions and school boards in a major way.

You’ll see a bunch of battles on social issues, and Sen. Beth Mizell’s bill to establish a historical monuments preservation commission with the ability to stop local governments from bulldozing monuments will probably make for the loudest debate of the session. And you’ll see a lot of discussion of Edwards’ Medicaid expansion plans, which are the main reason he’s proposing a budget of nearly $27 billion – he’s expecting oodles of federal dollars to stream in to cover the 300,000 more Medicaid subscribers the expansion will create.

It won’t be much fun, and it’s going to be acrimonious and awful. But it’s what the people of Louisiana deserve. Most of you voted for this governor; don’t be upset at his agenda.


LSU basketball quit on Sunday, if not before.

We concur with that assessment, but it’s not ours; it’s the assessment of The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais.

LSU just quit.

First on the basketball court Saturday, gliding like a phantom through a 71-38 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC tournament semifinals, one of the most embarrassing losses for any LSU team in any sport ever. Then Sunday, when LSU dropped a bombshell announcement that it would voluntarily end its season, ostensibly declining a bid to the National Invitation Tournament before it was even offered.

There is simply no other way to describe it. LSU said “no mas,” throwing in the towel on a 19-14 season that occasionally provided thrills but mostly dished out frustration like Ben Simmons dishes out assists with his brilliant passes.

We wrote on Saturday that Johnny Jones’ job status is something of a gut-check for the institution as a whole, because the fizzle that was this year’s season is a national embarrassment for the school and there is zero reason to believe things are going to get better next year or in the future. Jones is done recruiting high-profile players like Simmons, Jarell Martin or Antonio Blakeney; he’s been LSU’s head coach for four years with those players and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game. In fact, in four years he’s missed postseason play altogether more times than he’s made the NCAA tournament. And next year he’s likely to have far less talent than he had this year, so there’s no reason to think that’s going to change.

Leaving Jones in that job sends a signal that LSU’s current leadership doesn’t believe it can compete nationally with peer institutions, and is simply interested in making excuses for failure. Keeping Jones will involve a great deal of excuse-making, just like we’ll hear at the legislature when LSU demands to hold on to its funding amid a bleed-out of faculty.

We would prefer to see the kind of leadership that accepts general fund subsidies as a lost cause and seeks to find revenues it can control. The best way to do that is to attract as many students as possible, particularly from outside of Louisiana, and operate the school on the tuition and fees those students bring in. It’s been done before – LSU had more students in 2004 than it has now. But it’s easier to attract those students when the most high-profile endeavors with the LSU brand on them, like football and men’s basketball seasons, show the school in a championship light.

Mark Emmert, the most successful chancellor the school has had, understood this and used athletics as his marketing arm. He made sure monied individuals willing to donate to the athletic department were excited about those programs and willing to pony up for the best available coaches and facilities, and reaped the benefit of a national title in football in 2003. It’s no accident that the year after that national title saw the school’s largest historical enrollment.

LSU needs a lot more of Emmert’s thinking and a lot less of what it currently has. Emmert wouldn’t have a basketball coach who tanks his program so badly that it turns down postseason play out of embarrassment.

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