VIDEO: Cameron Henry Tells His Side Of The Budget Stalemate Story

While the state’s newspapers have devolved into a frenzy of attacks on the Louisiana House of Representatives and particularly House Speaker Taylor Barras, House members have taken to social media in order to push back on a narrative that Barras’ “weak” leadership has enabled “extremist” conservatives to stonewall a proper Louisiana budget. Here’s a video from House Appropriations Committee chairman Cameron Henry to serve as an example of that, with some other content to follow.

Henry is hardly alone in restating the House majority’s perspective – namely, that the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference has a nearly pristine record of producing overly-optimistic forecasts for the state’s tax revenue, and as such any budget which spends all of the money the REC (which by state law is made up of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Senate President John Alario, Barras and LSU economist Jim Richardson; it’s the latter who actually performs the revenue forecasts, and one wonders whether Richardson’s consistently incorrect math would keep him similarly employed in the private sector) projects can only be seen as destined for imbalance. This is somehow an “extremist” view, according to Edwards and his epigones in some of the state’s media, and yet polls and recent election results consistently show it’s one endorsed by a sizable majority of Louisiana’s voters.

So his colleagues are echoing Henry’s voice. Here’s Rep. Nancy Landry, who is doing battle in her hometown of Lafayette with Edwards, who is writing op-eds in the Lafayette Advertiser attacking her personally

I want to thank Governor John Bel Edwards for taking time from his busy schedule to personally respond to my opinion piece published in Lafayette’s Daily Advertiser on June 4th.

The governor’s response makes clear the basic truth that he sees the current fiscal situation in fundamentally different ways than conservatives in the legislature and most voters.

Now, his staff and Super PAC are blasting his response all over the state, personally attacking me and conservatives in the legislature. The governor has already announced he is running for re-election so everything is now political in his eyes.

Governor Edwards believes that the state needs more revenue through tax increases and I, along with many of my colleagues in the House believe the state needs to meaningfully address spending at the agency level for the first time in decades. He also believes we should spend every available penny, and then some.

In sum, he entirely fails to address my central premise, expressed clearly in what I wrote:

“Louisiana state government has grown faster than the economy for the last decade. After Katrina, the budget ballooned by billions. Even after federal recovery dollars went away, the level of spending remained at the higher levels. The people of Louisiana overwhelmingly believe our state has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem.”

To the governor, the solution to virtually all problems is a tax increase. When he says we need “a plan” for the budget, he means he wants to know what taxes we want to raise. To him, refusal to raise taxes is a fundamental failure of leadership.

Even the governor’s revenue solution this session demonstrates his mindset. At the 11th hour, he proposed a “Commercial Activity Tax” — a gross receipts tax on all business activity in the state. This governor literally wants to tax everything. Fortunately, legislators immediately saw how awful it would be for small business and businesses that aren’t yet profitable. The governor’s proposal was perhaps the worst possible thing we could do at this time.

On a personal note, while I am pleased the governor considers himself friends with Speaker Barras, he and his allies have worked ceaselessly to smear the speaker. They’ve aggressively tried to portray him as an obstructionist, to characterize him as a weak leader and question his motivations.

That isn’t the act of a friend. Or a leader.

The governor concludes with his familiar claim that the problem is “partisanship” but fails to address my point that Speaker Barras thoughtfully and deliberately appointed committee chairs and vice chairs from both parties, unlike in virtually all other states where the majority party claims all legislative leadership positions. And why wasn’t it partisanship when the governor insisted on a speaker from his own party, even though his party is in the minority?

The fact is, Taylor Barras is the first independent House Speaker in modern history. His election marks the first time that a legislative body rejected the choice of a governor and decided to operate in the manner contemplated by the state constitution.

The resistance of the House to the governor’s continuing efforts to raise taxes reflects the work of a legislative body actually doing its job for the first time in memory.

We’re doing our jobs. With civility, decorum and respect for our political opponents.

Perhaps he could start doing his job in the same manner.

And here’s Rep. Blake Miguez saying a lot of the same things Henry is saying…

This year, we decided to end the bad habit of over-appropriating and only budget spending at 97.5% of our expected revenue. The concept is simple, don’t spend “invisible money” that you are unlikely to ever receive. This is exactly what your family and our local businesses do when they suffer a budget crunch — halt the spending and budget less money. This is fiscally prudent budgeting.

Along with the standstill budget, the House fully funded TOPS. TOPS is an important program promised to high-achieving students and we are honoring our commitment to fully fund TOPS. Years ago the TOPS program afforded me the opportunity to attain a college degree. I want to ensure that our state’s best and brightest have that same great opportunity.

So, the next time you read an article saying the legislature is doing nothing to solve the deficit, remember they are right in one aspect. When it comes to raising your taxes, some of us plan on doing nothing. When it comes to enacting reforms that will prevent government from out-of-control spending growth, we are fighting for you.

Here’s Rep. Reid Falconer…

Ignoring the work of the commission established to offer alternatives for tax reform, three weeks before the Session our Governor met with Legislators representing districts on the North Shore and explained his Gross Receipts Tax. That was the first I heard of the proposal, as it was not to be found in the recommendations of the commission. One member politely described the impact of Cost of Goods Sold on the profitability of an entity and another discussed the circumstance that a large percentage of businesses, and a particularly large proportion of small businesses, file as partnerships or Sub S Corporations, and thus pay their taxes at the higher personal marginal rates. These details were all lost on the Governor.

His approach continues to be focused on finding alternatives to raise taxes to allow government to grow. Often, those alternatives are ill-considered.

Rep. Chris Leopold, echoing Henry…

One month ago, the House passed a responsible standstill budget that would spend only 97.5% of the revenue our state expects to receive next year. The reason we did this is because the expected revenue amount has been wrong more than 15 times for the past nine years and has already been wrong once again this year. If we pass 100%, we will have to come back for a special session and implement mid-year cuts, meaning we will have to make a mid-year cut that departments will have only a handful of months to absorb.

The Senate’s version of the budget would have forced us down this path. It also would have made irresponsible spending decisions such as implementing millions in pay raises for state employees while the private sector is attempting to survive a very sluggish economy.

House Republicans have presented Senate leaders with two alternative budgets outside of the original budget the House passed. However, the Senate has been unwilling to negotiate with us and has not moved one inch towards a resolution between our chambers. Their unwillingness to negotiate and their non acceptance of responsible budgeting practices is what has driven us to another special session.

House Republicans believe we should pass a responsible budget that sets aside funds to address the inevitable mid-year cut we will face. All three of the budgets we have presented would have also assisted with alleviating the fiscal cliff(next year).

We believe we could have avoided another costly special session by passing one of the alternative budgets we have presented to the Senate. We will not budge; we will not spend 100%. Our position will not change regarding the budget, tomorrow, next week, or the last day of the special session. We will remain where we are today, standing for what the people in our state, my district, deserve- a responsible budget and a healthy debate between the chamber regarding budget specifics. The Senate has provided neither thus far. So, we respectfully request our colleagues to join us at the table and pass a legitimate budget for our state during the coming special session.

I decided not to post anything too quickly. One reason is I’m still in disbelief at how a particular Senator came into our chamber to disrupt the debate and to get my fellow colleagues in an uproar. That was palatable; however, what is not palatable was the Senator’s lack of decorum, respect and complete disregard of rules and regulations, just the childish behavior. Throwing out vulgar statements to my colleague is unacceptable behavior. I’m glad that we didn’t have any esteemed guests or a school touring the Capitol to witness this event. THAT is embarrassing!

So as I read comments on social media how, “I’m embarrassed that we couldn’t pass a budget” or “I’m sorry we couldn’t do the peoples work” Let me stand and say, “I’m damn proud of the work that we accomplished this Session, mainly a comprehensive criminal justice reform package, which by the way, was a bi-partisan vote in favor. So all this talk about “party politics” and “DC style politics”–People, we’re not there.

Yes, I was ready to go home. Yes, my children and wife have been planning a vacation, which we have postponed. No, I didn’t particularly want to go into a Special Session but I can stand and tell you this. I am in this position to represent my District and at the same time, I am thinking of my children’s future. I don’t want them to move out of Louisiana. I don’t want their friends to move out of Louisiana. We have got to do a better job at budgeting and getting things in shape for our young people because if not–they will not STAY! It’s not just about a budget, it’s about our future. I sincerely hope my colleagues will read this and see it for what it is- not a republican thing, not a democratic thing…it’s the right thing to do.

There are others, and their voices are fairly clear. The question is whether the governor, or his friends in the state’s media, are even listening anymore.

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