Here’s a really good 25 minute radio segment which aired live on Tuesday, in which Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras went on Moon Griffon’s show discussing the legislative session which ended on Sunday.
It’s good stuff because Barras offers an interesting view into the deliberations which led to the .45-cent sales tax increase bill passing on Friday of last week, and how that happened. What he said, and this is something Republicans and conservatives throughout the state have to understand in judging the performance of the legislature in the third special session, is the .45-cent increase validated the House’s number with respect to the state’s projected budget deficit and not Gov. John Bel Edwards’.
What does that mean? Well, consider that in the second special session the House passed, and the bill was signed by the governor making it law, a $33 million tax increase dealing with the way the state handles the taxation of income made outside Louisiana. That coupled with the $463 million the .45-cent sales tax increase drives gives you $496 million – or more or less hits the number of $495 million, which was the House Fiscal Division’s estimate of the state’s budget deficit for FY 2018-19. Our readers will remember there was a controversy between the House and Edwards over this number; Edwards’ claim was that the state was $648 million short of funding and he sent Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne into various committee rooms to howl and scream that the $495 million was a fraudulent number and an impending catastrophe for the state.
But when the House offered up $495 million in revenue, Dardenne and Edwards called this the greatest budget deal in the history of Louisiana and have proceeded to crow loudly about the newfound fiscal stability of the state.
If there is a win to have been had from that legislative session of last week, it’s this. The $495 million appears to be the real number, and Edwards’ bellyaching about the poverty of state government is exposed as fraudulent.
Barras also gets into the question of how reforms to the state’s spending caps will begin to have some real meaning starting next year, because Edwards and Dardenne are going to bang into those caps going forward and it’s going to prevent them from beating the drums about how Louisiana faces another budget deficit. When you understand that what Edwards calls a “deficit” is actually properly understood as a wish list which exceeds the taxpayers’ means, you understand the value of the spending caps – he won’t have the authority to present that unrealistic wish list going forward. That might be a bit in the weeds for most of us, but it will at least mark the end of Edwards’ persistent demands for more taxes, at least for a while.
And Barras closes by saying you can’t really expect to begin rolling back the problem of government overspending until there is somebody else in Edwards’ job, which Griffon guarantees will happen (and we would tend to agree, particularly in light of the SurveyUSA poll released yesterday).
Are we completely satisfied with the explanation? Not especially. The $495 million number is the one generated by the House based on the state’s FY 2017-18 budget; it’s more or less a standstill figure. You’d see that as an optimal number if you believe Louisiana actually needs the current-sized government. No conservative in Louisiana believes that, and frankly a majority of the state’s voters don’t believe it either. One of the key data points emerging from that SurveyUSA poll was that 50 percent of Louisiana’s voters said budget cuts alone were the answer to Louisiana’s fiscal issues, while only 7 percent said taxes alone were the solution. You could arguably say that the House allowed that seven percent to carry the day and ignored the 50 percent – who by and large are their constituents. That might be an uncharitable interpretation, but it’s one that most of the anti-tax folks will come to and stick to when it’s time for elections next year.
And Barras didn’t really have a great answer for the brutally tough question Griffon asked him – which was that given all the positive press Barras has been getting since the session’s conclusion for having brokered the deal at a .45-cent sales tax increase and all the beating-up the state’s legacy media have laid on the House conservatives like Alan Seabaugh and Blake Miguez who held the line, what does Barras say to them? His answer was that this isn’t over, and the fight will begin again next year.
But it remains to be seen how that’s going to play out – if the internet sales tax money begins to flood in, Louisiana is going to have a surplus – and while someone should absolutely bring tax cut bills (Barras mentions the possibility of getting rid of the state’s corporate income tax so as to compete with Texas, which doesn’t have one) that’s going to compete with the demand to do something to improve Louisiana’s terrible roads, plus Edwards is going to be flogging a teacher pay increase. And amid that cacophony tax relief for Louisiana’s private economy could very easily get lost.
Nevertheless, it’s an excellent interview and one which is worth a listen if you’re interested in an insider’s perspective of how the budget deal played out.