Nobody At The Capitol Should Ever Pay Attention To Anything The Advocate Writes, Ever Again

There’s an editorial this morning under the “Our Views” byline at the Baton Rouge Advocate – perhaps we should start calling it the John Bel Edwards Advocate, because at this point that’s really all that fishwrap is – which might well be the dumbest thing anybody’s written in one of the state’s newspapers all year.

Bob Mann and Jarvis DeBerry at the Times-Picayune exempted from that discussion, of course. Their screeds and scribbles are in a different category.

This particular idiocy is a rant castigating Louisiana’s House Republicans for a lack of “compromise.” We’ll do you a favor of breaking it down point by point so you don’t have to read it.

Since special sessions cost $60,000 a day, Tuesday’s timeout at the Louisiana Legislature was an expensive break.

It was caused by a breakdown in negotiations over the tax plans that have been circulating around the State Capitol for more than a year — in fact, for longer than that.

OK, a lot to unpack here. First, the Advocate’s editors are now furious over the loss of $60,000? The state has a THIRTY BILLION DOLLAR budget and there isn’t a word in this editorial about how some of that money could be cut back, and yet they’re going to go disco-biscuits over $60,000? Please.

And by the way, the breakdown in negotiations happened because the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus demanded a massive income tax hike on Louisiana’s middle class – not the House Republicans. But you won’t find that in this op-ed.

Compromise is now a dirty word, particularly in the balky caucus of the House Republicans. That’s been the biggest obstacle to progress — even more than whatever errors Gov. John Bel Edwards might have made in the process.

It’s past time to strike a deal, although the intransigence of lawmakers over the past two years doesn’t inspire confidence that sanity at the Capitol will prevail.

Compromise? There’s been a compromise offer on the table since this session began – the replacement of some sales tax revenue in exchange for the Louisiana Checkbook, reforms to Medicaid and a change to the state’s expenditure cap. That wouldn’t cover all of the $994 million the governor says is his budget deficit, but most people recognize that number is fabricated; by the time it’s all over with, that deal would get the budget close enough to balance that a little fiscal discipline and budget cuts in the regular session would finish the job.

Most of the House Republicans would have gone along with that. And yet the Democrats on the House Health And Welfare Committee killed a key element of it, a Medicaid co-pay plan which would save Louisiana taxpayers as much as $100 million per year. You won’t find that fact in the Advocate’s op-ed either.

The state’s faulty tax structure is the root of many problems, including chronic budget instability that has hurt every state institution, serving families rich and poor, all across Louisiana.

Businesses of all sizes are profoundly affected by uncertainty in government. It’s past time to end the cycle of political posturing and “temporary” taxes.

The Legislature itself commissioned a plan to remake the tax structure but lawmakers, particularly in the House but also in the Senate, have been reluctant to take the political risks in adopting the recommendations, called the HCR11 proposals after the legislation creating the original task force.

Nobody is defending Louisiana’s tax structure, which is abysmal and needs to be blown up in toto and replaced with something that looks like Texas’ next door, but the main culprit for “chronic budget instability” is chronic budget increases. If Louisiana was still spending $25 billion per year like it was spending during Bobby Jindal’s last year in office the state would have a four billion dollar surplus at present and those temporary sales tax increases would never have been necessary.

This state has more revenue coming in this year than ever before. If the Advocate’s editors don’t know that, they’re not qualified to publish opinions on public policy If they do know that and still published this idiocy they’re a bunch of liars who can’t be trusted.

And sure, businesses would like not to have uncertainty in government. In Louisiana’s case, the kind of certainty the Advocate’s demanding will create lots of certainty for the state’s businesses – namely, that they’ll be certain to pick up stakes and move their operations somewhere else.

And that commission to remake the tax structure? We’ve talked to folks who were on it. It did nothing but look for ways the state could gouge taxpayers for more money. It’s not cowardice which killed the HCR11 proposals, it’s principle.

The regular session of the Legislature cannot take up most revenue bills, so raising taxes to replace the unwise “temporary” sales tax of 2016 must be restricted to the special session.

Timing is crucial here: Failure to replace the “fiscal cliff” revenues, principally the expiring sales tax, will make building a new budget almost impossible in the regular session. Legislators will not have a realistic set of numbers to work from.

That’s 100 percent wrong. 180 degrees wrong. By the time the budget negotiations really get going in the regular session they’ll have a lot more information about how much money Louisiana will have as a result of the federal tax reform, the price of oil, the pace of the state’s economy and other factors. That $994 million number Edwards has thrown around will be smaller. Everyone knows it. It’s the $994 million which isn’t a realistic set of numbers. This point, if nothing else, invalidates the whole op-ed.

Further, the most anti-tax members in key House committees have also been the most reluctant to come up with budget cuts of any size. A billion-dollar-plus problem is beyond their mathematical skills, although they can casually burn $60,000 on their timeout day without blushing.

Funny how most of the leges said a special session wasn’t necessary, and Edwards himself said he wouldn’t call one unless there was an agreement on how it would proceed, and yet he called it anyway. How come none of that is in this op-ed? Why isn’t it castigating Edwards for wasting everyone’s time and money on a special session that was pointless and stupid?

The reason the fiscal conservatives haven’t proposed any budget cuts is that Edwards says won’t agree to any. And yet Edwards already gave them a budget with a billion dollars in cuts. Assumedly, they’ve merely got to pass that budget in the regular session and then no tax increases will be necessary. Edwards and his chief administrative lackey Jay Dardenne say that budget will bring doom upon Louisiana’s unfortunates, but it’s their budget – and if it wasn’t presented in good faith that wouldn’t seem to be the fault of the fiscal conservatives, now would it?

The participants in the farce we call the Louisiana Legislature already know all this. But talk-radio commentary is no substitute for data-driven legislation. No one should be in favor of even a short-term extension of the “temporary” sales tax, but that might be part of any final compromise. The impact of sales taxes should be minimized, as the experts suggested in the HCR11 report, with reasonable increases in the income tax.

So now the Advocate has taken the Legislative Black Caucus’ position – which its editors are too craven to say up front for fear of their readership’s reaction.

Income tax increases are a non-starter with the majority of Louisiana’s population, on account of the state’s private sector cannot afford to pay more in income taxes. The state’s economy is moribund. That’s why the majority of the legislators – we would bet that includes the RINO-infested Senate as well as the House – dismissed income tax increases out of hand; they know the people will punish them with political oblivion, if not tar, feathers and the rail, were they to support such a bad plan.

Shame on lawmakers who fail to do better, because the options are there. Those who vote “no” on everything are bringing the legislative bodies into greater disrepute, and failing to address the critical problem facing state government today.

Disrepute? The Advocate ought to know. That paper has less credibility now than the governor it shills for.

About a month back John Bel Edwards met with the editorial staff of that paper. This op-ed is without a doubt the product of that meeting. Here’s what’s interesting about all this – if and when the tax increases the Advocate and Edwards are demanding are voted down on the House floor today, will the Advocate then join in the rumored coup attempt against House Speaker Taylor Barras? This op-ed is a thinly-veiled attack on Barras, despite the fact he’s actually tried to broker a deal for some tax increases in this special session.

Don’t be shocked if that’s tomorrow’s “Our Views” column. But don’t be persuaded by it, either. The Advocate has become such a joke the fish won’t accept being wrapped in it anymore.

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