Yesterday, a Louisiana Senate committee defeated a bad bill for the wrong reason, in the process showing why next year can’t come soon enough.
The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee deferred SB 21 by Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock. It would have gradually redirected proceeds from the 0.45 percent sales tax hike renewal agreed to last year towards transportation needs and kept its scheduled expiration in 2025.
The bill had laudable aims in that the unneeded tax – its excessive nature confirmed by the state’s slow but steady uptick in revenues as recognized at the last Revenue Estimating Conference meeting – would go away and that such supplementary funding above and beyond necessary state operating expenses lent to diversion for infrastructure needs. But it didn’t come up to snuff for two reasons.
First, it keeps the tax on through its entire life. A superfluous tax for operating expenses is just that and needs elimination immediately, or soon thereafter. This obviously makes HB 584 by GOP state Rep. Dodie Horton (who shares some of Peacock’s district on the House of Representatives side) superior, because it zeroes out the tax by the end of the fiscal year. HB 599 by Republican state Rep. Lance Harris also does much better, because its does away with the tax in just three years.
However, the other reason has to do with the object of the diversion. By shuttling to roads beginning with $44 million annually until increasing in the final year to $392 million, the bill buys into the myth that existing spending priorities for roads need no adjustment. If state policy changed to make private users and local governments pay a fair share for transportation infrastructure, that would produce at least $100 million more a year, or half a billion over five years. In other words, just doing that without taking more money out of the people’s wallets naturally will raise as much money over a decade as does the bill, relying on the extra tax, over its lifetime.
Thus, SB 21 fails because it keeps an unnecessary tax too long and it provides a disincentive for reform of transportation infrastructure savings, which also would include expanding private-public partnerships. But that’s not why it failed in committee, where all three Republicans present voted for it despite its warts.
Rather, the five Democrats spiked it because it took away money to spend on recurring items. Simply, they see the tax not as a stopgap measure to allow streamlining, changing priorities, and improving economic conditions to permit Louisiana eventually to live within its means, but as a permanent expansion of government. They willingly would let this tax go only if another one more progressive popped up in its place, and will fight to do that when forced to in 2025.
Of course, why Democrats could sabotage a bill that likely the Republican-majority Senate – with almost two-thirds of its members – would pass, joined by the Republican-led House, is part of the Twilight Zone-like environment of the Louisiana Senate. In this warped world, Democrats control the major committees despite their vast numerical inferiority and GOP Sen. Pres. John Alario with relish licks the boots of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
This unsavory situation brings all reform efforts that could right-size Louisiana state government to a halt. Otherwise, some measures would get through because, even as Edwards wields veto power, public support backing some would force him to let these become law.
Thankfully, this undesirable state of affairs ends after this year. Alario faces term limits and the Legislature almost certainly will return strong Republican majorities for the 2020-2024 stretch whose leaders would work with a Republican governor and not kowtow to a Democrat. If nothing else, the vote on SB 21 confirms that leadership changes in the Senate and Governor’s Mansion must occur for true progress to take place in Louisiana.