If you’re a normal person and a lover of freedom you’ve undoubtedly seen Braveheart enough to remember the famous scene depicting the Battle of Stirling, in which the Scottish patriot William Wallace picks a fight with the English king’s forces and then deploys a battlefield innovation – the use of long pikes – in order to decimate the English horse cavalry and score a massive upset.
And you also undoubtedly remember the scene depicting the battle of Falkirk, in which Wallace is sold out by the Scottish noblemen when victory was otherwise attainable, and things go the opposite way – with Wallace barely escaping with his life.
Reading this dispatch from the foggy moor that is Louisiana’s capitol scene, one smells a parallel to the machinations of the Scottish lords…
Senate President John Alario said House and Senate leaders, along with other lawmakers, were meeting Monday (June 11) to try to broker a tax compromise. Alario said he expects additional meetings ahead of the special session opening next week.
The hope, the Republican Senate leader said, is to open the special session with the parameters of a deal in hand.
“That would be an ideal situation,” he said. “It’s possible.”
Louisiana is expected to bring in $648 million less in the budget year starting July 1, a shortfall tied to the loss of temporary taxes. Gov. John Bel Edwards called special sessions in February and May aimed at filling the shortfall. Both collapsed without closing the gap, the latest session ending with angry words and recriminations about who was to blame for the failure.
“It’s absolutely important that we move past all that,” Alario said. “We need to move on. It’s too important for the people of this state.”
Edwards has called a third special session, a 10-day gathering to start next Monday, aimed at replacing some expiring taxes and avoiding deep cuts. Only sales taxes can be considered.
Have we not been through enough of this? Why are House Speaker Taylor Barras and House Republican Delegation chair Lance Harris continuing to meet with Alario in smoke-filled rooms even now?
Has that approach not repeatedly failed? Is there not an obvious majority of voters in the state, or certainly within districts represented by members of that delegation, opposing the kind of deals for tax hikes contemplated in those meetings?
Yesterday we had a guest post by Mark Wright, the freshman state representative from Covington (Wright is the one who beat Rob Maness in the special election for John Schroder’s seat left open last year when Schroder resigned to run for Treasurer), in which Wright was adamant about voting against tax increases. It’s worth a read, but what was most convincing in that post was this – a slide from the results of a poll Wright conducted in his district on the tax question…
That’s 82 percent of his district favoring cuts to state government, and almost half who say cut the whole $648 million from the budget.
How far right is Wright’s district? Those numbers look like he represents a Tea Party rally, right?
Well, certainly District 77 is a conservative district. Covington is the Northshore, and that’s considered the heart of Louisiana’s conservative country. But if you go by the last several big statewide elections, it’s anything but an outlier.
Donald Trump got 77 percent of the vote in District 77 in the 2016 presidential election and John Kennedy picked up 83 percent in the Senate runoff that year. David Vitter got 64 percent of the vote for governor in the 2015 runoff, and Bill Cassidy got 75 percent in the 2014 Senate runoff. On an average of those four, it’s a 75 percent average.
That isn’t the most Republican district in the state. It’s actually barely in the Top 10 – in fact the district’s 75 percent number puts it in a four-way tie for 10th. Interestingly enough, District 22 represented by independent Terry Brown is more Republican than Wright’s district and District 54 represented by Democrat Truck Gisclair is tied with Wright’s. There are 31 districts with GOP average votes within five points of that 75 average or above, and 53 districts – a majority of House districts – within 10 points of it.
So Wright’s district is on the conservative side, but hardly on the fringe.
And 82 percent of his constituents want that budget cut, either to completely resolve the deficit or to remedy at least part of the problem. Is it not fair to say that a large majority of the voters in those 53 districts feel the same way?
Is there any surprise that when Alan Seabaugh successfully filibustered a half-billion dollar tax increase bill in the waning moments of the last special session he made himself a William Wallace-style folk hero among those voters? There are people on social media telling Seabaugh he ought to run for governor next year rather than accepting a federal judgeship in Alexandria, which is his current plan. And Blake Miguez, who’s another outspoken critic of tax increases, is catching hagiographic praise from the conservative movement in the way of “Thank you” ads from the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority and AFP Louisiana.
Meanwhile, John Bel Edwards sits up on the fourth floor of his art deco castle with the facade falling off and he dictates that the full $648 million must be funded with tax increases. And Barras and Harris are meeting behind closed doors with Edwards’ minion John Alario to hammer out a deal in secret?
We found out about this before we even read the article when some members of the delegation called us furious about what they think is a sellout. They understand the facility of negotiating something, but what they don’t see is any movement from Edwards and they’ve had enough of trying to please him with something other than his full amount. They’re asking why Edwards isn’t putting anything on the table and they’re asking why it is they’re constantly being asked to vote for tax increases which can’t reach the 70 vote threshold for passage.
Especially when Edwards won’t stop bashing them as obstructionists, and nobody notices that the Legislative Black Caucus keeps voting against sales tax increases and denying the leadership those 70 votes.
Barras and Harris are negotiating for tax increases they say they don’t want and their constituents pretty forcefully say they don’t want them. Just go to Facebook and read the comments under the posts those legislators have made. You’ll see over and over again that those constituents are imploring them to vote no on tax increases.
This isn’t going to continue. Something is going to break.
We haven’t bashed the House Republican leadership for its attempts to make a deal. We’re not lunatics here; we get that some sort of compromise has to be made. But compromise requires a good-faith negotiating partner, and the leadership doesn’t have one. By now it’s obvious there is no deal available with John Bel Edwards short of total capitulation to his demands, and to offer that capitulation is to betray one’s constituents who are very clearly saying no to those tax increases he’s threatening cataclysm if he doesn’t get. One day it’s 10,000 prisoners he’s going to let out of the jails. The next day it’s canceling the food stamp program. Or it’s nursing home evictions. Or whatever.
Nobody is buying any of that crap anymore. He’s worn it out. The fact he makes these threats and doesn’t offer anything up as a consideration for a deal makes it clear nobody should buy Edwards’ scare tactics. He wouldn’t even allow bills pushing transparency for how the state spends its money to become law, much less offer up much in the way of budget cuts to meet the legislators halfway.
And Edwards won’t even allow the Revenue Estimating Conference to recognize what’s going to be well more than $100 million in oil revenues beyond what’s currently projected. The state has oil prices pegged at $57 per barrel in its revenue projections, but Louisiana Light crude closed at $74.60 yesterday and there is no reason to believe it’s going to drop precipitously any time soon. At roughly $8 million in state revenue per dollar of oil prices, a $17.60 spread between projection and current price is $140.8 million in revenues – or better yet tax increases Louisiana’s people don’t have to pay.
And yet Edwards demands the whole $648 million.
It’s time for Barras and Harris to step away from the table and let Edwards make a move. No Republican should bring a sales tax increase bill to the special session next week. Let the governor get a Democrat author bring that bill, and let the House have its way with the instrument based on the Democrat author’s powers of persuasion. Harris made a noble effort at a compromise in the last special session, and he was rewarded for his efforts with nothing short of scorn and derision.
It’s time to stick with your constituents and not this failed governor. There is a wave election building next year; the voters are disgusted with the waste and poor performance in that capitol, and they’re going to take scalps. The House Republicans, and their colleagues in the Senate who aren’t term-limited, can either help lead that wave by standing with their constituents against John Bel’s taxes, or they can be swept out to sea when the wave hits. It’s up to them, and it’s up to the leadership to stick with them.