Exactly What Did You Think Was Going To Happen, John Bel?

We have, it’s fairly obvious, a fool for a governor.

That’s not to say John Bel Edwards is a stupid man, because stupid people don’t generally graduate from West Point and go on to get a law degree. He can probably generate a respectable IQ score.

But John Bel Edwards is unmistakably a fool, at least where it comes to his execution of the job he sought and won last year.

Edwards’ latest self-exposition comes courtesy of the fate of his tax plans in the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday, when virtually all of his bills to increase income taxes splattered against a rock wall of opposition.

Republicans on Tuesday shredded Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to raise individual income taxes, forcing the Democratic governor on the first full day of the special session to regroup to try to raise enough revenue to fill what he says is a $600 million budget shortfall.

Republican opposition bottled up three of Edwards’ individual income tax measures in the House Ways and Means Committee — the first hurdle to passing tax legislation. Together, the measures would raise $508 million. Had the bills come to a vote, the panel appeared likely to kill all three of them.

The committee defeated a fourth bill sought by Edwards that would have raised $4 million by trimming some corporate tax breaks.

What did get out of committee was three bills that would bring in a combined $188 million, or $222 million if the federal government kicks in. One of them was a bill that would limit the tax credit homeowners getting pounded with the high premiums for flood insurance through Citizens Property Insurance can take; it would drop the credit from 72 percent of those premiums to 25 percent. That’s worth $17 million. Another $16 million would come from limiting the interest the state pays on refunds for tax overpayments, which likely will have the effect of insuring that people are incensed that the state is now incentivized to fight them on their tax refunds.

The bulk of the new revenue that did pass was from a bill that would raise taxes on health insurance premiums – some $155 million worth. HB 35 is one of those Byzantine bills which make the reader suspicious of what’s actually behind it – a cursory reading made us suspicious that what it really is after is the companies competing to cover Medicaid patients under the state’s semi-private Bayou Health program, because those taxes have to be paid by the health insurers themselves, and if the federal government doesn’t actually kick in for the higher cost those companies would be getting hit with a net reimbursement decrease. One wonders if that doesn’t destabilize the entire Bayou Health enterprise and make the private companies competing in it pull out and turn the whole Medicaid enterprise back to the state, the way the Democrats had it before Bobby Jindal came along.

Or maybe it’s just a money grab. That didn’t seem to get litigated much in Ways and Means yesterday.

But as for his income tax grab, Edwards got the door slammed in his face. That came after he gave a long(ish) address to the legislature with the same lines about how Louisiana is in a fiscal crisis and all hell is going to break loose if he doesn’t get those tax increases. He got applause twice during the speech – at the beginning and at the end, and nowhere in between. It turns out nobody over there is all that interested in being props for Louisiana’s Tax Collector-In-Chief.

And the House is beginning to learn the principle of leverage. After Edwards called the special session, the House decided not to pass HB2, the Capital Outlay bill containing all of the state’s infrastructure spending, during the regular session. That bill was reintroduced and sent out of committee yesterday and it’s now on the House floor, and how it’s handled will be interesting.

Naturally, of course, the way the HB2 deferral was reported was a good example of how the state’s reporters are little more than stenographers for the governor and his minions in the state senate…

“In my 22 years here, I’ve never seen this amount of distrust between the two bodies,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner. “We don’t know who to talk to over there.”

From a practical standpoint, there shouldn’t be much impact of delaying the adoption of the bill by a couple of weeks. But the optics of the situation don’t reflect well on the Legislature.The construction budget affects everything from the Superdome and New Orleans airport to local school buildings, university facilities, and roads around the state.

It also doesn’t look great when legislators openly complain about not being able to have basic discussions. State Sen. JP Morrell — the point person in the Senate on the construction budget — said he hasn’t been able to get hold of Rep. Neil Abramson — the sponsor of the bill — for the past week to discuss the state construction budget.

“There has been zero contact with the Senate or the staff” from Abramson, said Morrell in a floor speech.

Abramson wasn’t in the state Capitol on Sunday, when most legislators came to Baton Rouge to vote on the state budget. And the Senate leadership said they weren’t able to find him to talk about the state construction bill Monday.

“For one person to hold up the roads and building construction for the entire state, I don’t think that’s right,” Alario said.

Danny Martiny has zero room to bitch about distrust between the House and the Senate. Particularly after the way he killed a massively-popular sanctuary cities bill in committee after it passed with a wide margin on the House floor. And while he might say he doesn’t know who to talk to in the House, there is a reason for that – the House members know there is zero point in talking to Martiny, who is little more than an underling and a flunky for John Alario, the Senate president – who in turn is little more than an underling and a flunky for Edwards. The House members don’t need to waste time talking to Martiny when they know who actually makes decisions.

And the lack of interest in talking to the Senate comes courtesy of the fact that the Senate seldom has any interest in talking to the House. For example, the House sent the Senate a budget document that was extremely cordial in terms of presenting a compromise that would prioritize state spending in ways a bit different from what Edwards proposed, but what came back to the House reflected none of its work and instead was basically the budget proposal Edwards sent them that the House Appropriations Committee had rejected. And it came back with virtually no time left in the session for negotiation; the House had it forced down its throat courtesy of Edwards and his Senate henchmen.

So HB2 now sits in limbo on the House floor, and various ideas for its use in the special session are being considered.

One that we like would be that the House moves absolutely no revenue measures at all until HB2 is passed AS WRITTEN in the House and signed by the Governor. That way there is to be no leverage taken by Edwards or Alario in terms of using the promise of asphalt on the pour to pick off House members to vote for tax increases. That’s the obvious play the governor has hinted at from the start, and it’s especially what we understand he’s holding out to several of the dimmer bulbs among the freshmen in the House – many of whom are absolutely atrocious examples of fake conservatives and we’ll need to address that in a separate post coming soon.

If the demand is made that HB2 be passed and signed according to the House’s direction or the special session produces not a single piece of legislation signed into law, Edwards loses – because he’ll have to continue calling session after session until at some point he looks like an idiot and his own people begin a revolt. Whether there is enough spine in the House to carry on that fight is a question, but the leadership at least is beginning to understand what it’s going to take to put a stop to his endless demands for more taxes.

Of course, as Kevin Boyd pointed out yesterday there are things the House leadership probably should do to reset the game if it’s going to contend with Edwards and Alario and win – the easiest and most obvious one being that Butch Speer, the Clerk of the House, is an old-school Democrat and a monthly donor to John Bel Edwards’ campaign who was actually hired by Alario in 1984 when he was Edwin Edwards’ House Speaker, and maybe it would be a good idea for the House not to have its day-to-day operations run by someone with such a patent conflict of interest if there is going to be a power struggle over substantive policy.

We’ll take our progress in baby steps, though, and so far it’s nice to see the House recognize that they really don’t have to buckle to everything Edwards wants. Once they see that, they can expose the governor for the fool he is. After all, on Monday Alan Seabaugh simply offered a five-line Facebook post expressing opposition to Edwards’ budget and the governor was so thin-skinned and rabbit-eared that he responded with a guest column in the Shreveport Times as a retort to a Facebook post not by the House Speaker or a committee chairman but by a mere state representative. Seabaugh then responded to Edwards and won the argument handily.

The House can either stand and fight, and do the things necessary to win, in which case they’ll save Louisiana’s economy from a disastrous 1980’s-style fate, or they’ll be complicit in creating that fate and bringing the wrath of the voters on themselves in 2019.

What they need to understand is the quite obvious fact that Edwards, politically, is a fool. So long as they don’t go along with him, they don’t have to also be fools.

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