This wasn’t unexpected, but it’s noteworthy. The special-session call came out in a release this evening…
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2017
Gov. Edwards Issues Call for Special Session
BATON ROUGE — Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a call for a special session of the Louisiana Legislature. The special session will convene at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 8, 2017, and it must adjourn by midnight on Monday, June 19, 2017. Gov. Edwards issued the call as a precautionary measure in light of recent developments in the legislature and gridlock related to the state operating budget, House Bill 1, and the state construction budget, House Bills 2 and 3. The special session is not to address the fiscal cliff that will hit on July 1, 2018. The call does not include the option to raise additional revenue in the special session.
The last bit, the part about not including potential tax increases, comes – we’re assuming – for two reasons. First, it’s politically unpalatable from Edwards’ standpoint to put out the call if all it’s going to be is a flurry of tax bills he’s going to send up. There has been a good deal of talk that what was always going to happen here was the House would pass a standstill budget, the Senate would load that budget up with all the spending Edwards wants, and demand the House pass a revenue measure to make up the difference before sine die. (That’s a Latin phrase which for our purposes means “the end of the session.”) And if that didn’t actually happen, you’d have the failure to agree on a budget which therefore would mean the need for a special session.
And in that case, the narrative would be pretty clear – namely, this is a governor who refuses to accept that government can only spend what it takes in. Given the resounding failure of tax measures across the state in local elections this spring, and given the defeat of tax-friendly candidates in legislative special elections this year in Kenner, Crowley and Bossier City, perhaps even the rather dense political people surrounding the governor are starting to realize that tax increases aren’t a great hill to die on this year.
Second, and as a product of the first, Edwards’ people have probably gotten wind of the sentiment in the House, which is that if he tries to hot-box them into giving in to tax increases in the current session by keeping them around for a special session in order to berate them into buckling, the most likely response to that tactic will be to gavel it out as soon as they gavel it in. And while Edwards could then call yet another special session, that isn’t so good a look for him, either. At some point, regardless of the unfailingly sycophantic coverage he gets from the Times-Picayune and Advocate, the public is going to begin deciding they can’t stand this guy – we can’t think of a Louisiana governor who didn’t wear out his welcome with a majority of the electorate at some point, even though Edwin Edwards managed to rehabilitate himself a couple of times – and it’s in his interest to put that off until after the 2019 elections. Never-ending special sessions in which the budget is always in deficit and tax increases hang over the citizens’ heads like the Sword of Damocles are almost as sure to bring that moment on as a sex scandal, federal indictment or flooded school buses in a hurricane zone.
As we’ve discussed, what’s in play here is the House’s insistence on passing a “standstill” budget which only spends 97.5 percent of the revenue projected by the Revenue Estimating Conference. That number is some $300 million or so below what Edwards deems acceptable; he wants to spend the REC’s full projection and then some, and if that leads to a mid-year budget deficit then By God we’ll have a special session to raise taxes to make up the difference, because next year the state budget has a giant hole in it anyway. And the Senate is run by Edwards’ lickspittle John Alario, who will do whatever it takes to insure that body reflects Edwards’ thinking in virtually every particular where this issue is concerned. Without any tax increases passing the House, there is no mechanism by which the Senate can spend what Edwards wants to spend in their budget given that the state constitution demands the budget be balanced. Therein lies the impasse the governor is talking about in his special session call.
But here’s a theory. There are a few bills in the Senate right now which are not tax increases but have a nexus to taxation. Two dozen of them – 27, to be exact – are set to be heard in the Senate Revenue And Fiscal Affairs Committee tomorrow. That committee’s chairman is J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, and its makeup gives the lie to the idea that the Senate has anything that could reasonably be termed a Republican majority. Just four members – Dale Erdey, Eddie Lambert, Neil Riser and John Smith – are Republicans, while seven – Morrell, Gerald Boudreaux, Troy Carter, Yvonne Colomb, Jay Luneau, Karen Carter Peterson and Gary Smith – are Democrats.
Meaning there is more than enough support in that committee for taking any one of those 27 bills which (1) deals with changes to Title 47 of the Revised Statutes, which involves the tax code, and (2) has an author malleable enough not to pull the bill if it’s gutted, and turn it into a $200-300 million tax increase. Several of the bills involve Title 47 and are authored by Rep. Julie Stokes, who has emerged as Louisiana’s pre-eminent Republican advocate of tax increases, and in particular there is HB 601, which establishes some sort of uniform sales tax collection authority. Don’t be surprised if that bill, or another one not unlike it, to be repurposed as a tax hike worth a quarter-billion dollars a year or more.
Because under the theory, Edwards’ special session call is the stick but HB 601, or some similar bill in Morrell’s committee tomorrow, becomes the carrot – either the House passes the amended version as it goes to a conference committee, and relents on spending the extra $200-300 million in revenue the bill’s tax hike would provide, or else Edwards keeps them for a special session. And if the House sticks to its guns on the standstill budget, Edwards might very well keep calling special sessions until the cows come home.
He’s trying to bully them. And if our theory is correct, and particularly if it’s one or two of Stokes’ bills to be used as the instruments to induce House votes for more revenue, then it’s the way the governor can tout her as the genius who broke the stalemate. Given that he’s already got his supporters forming a PAC to support her bid for Treasurer, one can see the package coming together. All that Edwards requires is 70 House members who lose their nerve and agree to raise taxes, and he’ll have what he wants.
Until next year, of course, when he’ll need even more tax revenue to balance his ever-burgeoning budget.