The buzz around the state capitol Monday afternoon came courtesy of a letter penned by a number of members of the Louisiana Senate – 11 of them Republicans and three Democrats – begging Gov. John Bel Edwards to call a special session in which he might present bills to raise taxes to address Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff” budget deficit.
To call that buzz “oversold” would be charitable. There is no great interest in a tax-raising special session in the Louisiana legislature. That doesn’t stop Edwards’ spin doctor Richard Carbo from putting out a statement of abject falsehood otherwise…
“Gov. Edwards agrees with the senate – we need a special session in February,” Edwards deputy chief of staff Richard Carbo said. “We’re confident that a majority of House members agree as well. The reality is that a small group of House members have routinely blocked any effort for reform, while at the same time refusing to offer solutions of their own. There is an opportunity to make historic reforms that benefit the citizens of Louisiana who deserve meaningful progress; not political games.”
Here’s the letter, in case you’re interested in reading it…
Some observers noted the fact that there are no names next to the signatures on the letter so it isn’t readily apparent who the signatories to the letter actually are. We know that Sen. Rick Ward (R-Livonia) is one and Sen. John Alario (“R” – Westwego) is another, and among the other Republicans are Sens. John Smith, Ronnie Johns, Danny Martiny, Ryan Gatti, Gerald Long, Fred Mills and Blade Morrish. Beyond that point it gets a little difficult to discern the identities from the scribbled signatures. The Democrats signing the letter include Sens. Eric LaFleur, Jay Luneau and John Milkovich.
Who are the other two Republicans? We’re not sure. Our best guess is Brett Allain (4th one down in the right column) and Norby Chabert (bottom of the left column) are the other two.
That the identities of the signatories aren’t prominently displayed is a pretty good indication some of the support for a special session to raise taxes wouldn’t quite be what you’d call passionate. Scribble a signature on a letter that doesn’t bear your name and maybe you didn’t actually sign it, right? It is, after all, a bit unconventional – perhaps sloppy, if not suspicious – not to have the names displayed under the signatures.
And in any event, you can’t get a majority in a 39-member Senate with 14 advocates for a particular position. There are 25 members of the Louisiana Senate who didn’t sign that letter, and included in that 25 are a majority of both the Republicans and the Democrats in the body. You’ll notice there are no Legislative Black Caucus members signing that letter, because as we understand their position they’re not in favor of the most likely tax solution the legislature would agree on; namely to re-up the 2016 sales tax increase which expires this year. That said, the head of the Senate Democrat Caucus Troy Carter did write a separate letter endorsing the idea of a special session but didn’t say one should be called unconditionally.
And most of the Republicans in the Senate aren’t signatories to this letter, which looks pretty conveniently like something John Bel Edwards’ people might have written and put in front of the Senators to sign.
Remember – the Senate is not the body from which you’re hearing much “obstinance” toward taxes or much of a demand to shrink the size of Louisiana’s government. That would be the House, which is fairly adamant about Louisiana’s budget being too damn big and in need of a major trimming. There have of course been members of the Senate who have stood against Edwards’ oversized budget – Conrad Appel routinely appears as a contributor here at the Hayride to decry the entire premises behind the big-government approach the governor represents, and Sharon Hewitt embroiled herself in a controversy over a spurious claim that Edwards has cut Louisiana’s budget by some $600 million since taking office (he hasn’t). But they’re just two of about a dozen fiscal conservatives in the Senate, not quite enough to block a tax increase (if the Senate’s fiscal conservatives could pick up two more members it would change Louisiana politics considerably), much less a majority.
And yet 25 members of the Senate refused to sign that letter.
The state’s legacy media seized upon this to characterize it as evidence the Legislature is demanding a special session so they can vote to raise taxes. But there is no corresponding letter from the House, and there is no evident majority indicating support for a special session in either body.
As for Edwards, his position is he’ll call a special session when there is agreement with the legislators over a program of tax increases to paper over the budget deficit. This he won’t get, because the House leadership regards it as illegitimate to make agreements about tax policy behind closed doors rather than to have them out in the legislative process – especially when it isn’t known what the size of the deficit to be solved actually is. Edwards says it’s a billion dollars; others, like the Pelican Institute’s Daniel Erspamer, say it’ll be considerably less given the positive effects of the federal tax reform plan passed in Congress in December, the state’s current run of better-than-projected tax collections and the price of oil showing up as $12-15 per barrel higher than the state’s projections.
Most in the legislature seem to believe it’s not necessary to hit the panic button yet, and that if the above-mentioned factors materialize favorably the “fiscal cliff” might be half the size of Edwards’ claims – at which point there could easily be budget cuts to clean up the rest of the problem without any of the doom-and-gloom scenarios the governor advertises coming to fruition. If not, perhaps some tax increase – most likely another round of temporary sales taxes – could be traded to Edwards in return for the conditions expressed by House Speaker Taylor Barras last week. Those include passage of the much-discussed Louisiana Checkbook, an idea based on the Ohio Checkbook in which all of state and local spending is put online for public access in a clickable format, a constitutional amendment to recalculate the state’s expenditure limit and an imposition of a work requirement and perhaps co-pays to Louisiana’s runaway Medicaid program.
That’s reality, as it stands now. The Ward-Alario letter is not. It would be nice if the state’s legacy media would stop presenting the public with the governor’s wishful thinking as fact.