If nothing else, the 2019 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature has cast in sharp relief the agenda of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his partisan legislators with that of legislative Republicans and their agenda that largely seeks to break with the state’s past.
The liberal Democrats’ agenda remains mired in the state’s populist past – raise taxes in order to redistribute wealth to favored constituencies and to assist in government growth, both in dollars spent and in control over individual opportunity. Conservative Republicans off and on challenge this order, but the inertia of this history during the Edwards term has prevented them from enjoying any victories along the lines as those during the time of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.
While the session has resonated this divide, activity this morning provides a precise encapsulation of it. The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee disposed of a couple of bills highlighting the parties’ ideological differences, using explanations rife with hypocrisy and sanctimony.
Of course, on the surface that never should have happened as Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two-to-one in the chamber, therefore bills that right-size government should pass out of the chamber. But Louisiana’s political culture, which emphasizes candidate personality over ideology as reflected in actual policy-maker voting behavior, perverts the translation of voter issue preferences into policy. It allowed the ideological chameleon Republican state Sen. John Alario, backed by the accidental Gov. Edwards who won not on issues but because he (with other GOP candidates) successfully demonized Republican former Sen. David Vitter, to become Senate president and then appoint a majority of Democrats to this key committee.
Accordingly, the panel spiked HB 599 by GOP state Rep. Lance Harris which would have reduced, in stages, sales tax increases backed and defended by Edwards, despite the state currently running forecast budget surpluses that Harris logically argued made the increase superfluous. He noted that the government shouldn’t take the people’s money unless it had demonstrated need – a reversal from the state’s existing ethos that called for taking surpluses and finding things on which to spend.
Contrast this with the vapidity of the remarks made by defenders of the status quo. Democrat state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux argued to reject the bill because the tax hike’s purpose was “to help those people throughout the state” by enabling more spending. So, this is how you help people, by taking more of what they earn (or, for a growing portion, what they collect in government welfare payments) at the cash register?
Harris also noted that by shutting off the surplus spigot that this could spur comprehensive tax reform. This means making legislators choose to dispense with unnecessary and/or counterproductive tax breaks in favor of a flatter and fairer system instead of defaulting to take more from the people. A shameful reply to this by Democrat state Sen. J.P. Morrell illustrates the ideology that puts him on a different planet than the majority of Louisiana’s people.
Morrell said the Legislature had tried that approach during a time of “crisis” – referring to two years ago when forecasters saw budget deficits ahead – and needed this “bridge” intact to make an attempt in the next couple of years. This statement is a marvel in obscuring accountability and rewriting history.
For one thing, why now start now with this bill? 2019, like 2017 and the promised 2021, is a session where the Constitution permits tax changes in a regular session. Secondly, the “bridge” tactic failed once, stemming from the 2016 tax hike partially extended in 2018, precisely because no reform came in 2017. And, finally, no reform came in 2017 because Morrell, Edwards, and their party wanted not reform, but regression by changing the state’s fiscal structure to lock in higher income taxes and greater spending – the antithesis of “reform” which seeks to increase tax efficiency and decrease the size of government to prevent deficits. Morrell would blame the victim for the crime.
Not that Morrell isn’t two-faced on the matter. He complains about the revenue rug pulled out from under the budget starting fiscal year 2021, yet he erodes that himself by authoring a half-baked tax exemption for diapers and feminine hygiene products. Stupidly, he can’t fathom that a general sales tax cut will do more to help more people.
Others chimed in on the subject, echoing Edwards when he proclaimed that beginning to pare the tax hike at this time would undo a “compromise” that allowed higher spending to continue. By that logic, anyone mouthing this rationale would have backed the Missouri Compromise, which kept the country together for three decades until the Civil War by allowing half the states to enslave people. You don’t follow “compromise” when it deprives people of liberty, whether on a grand scale such as with slavery or on a smaller scale as what happens when government takes from the people to spend wastefully and unnecessarily.
Keep in mind the hollowness of that argument about reducing revenues allegedly too soon in the context of another bill the committee rejected, HB 147 by GOP state Rep. Rick Edmonds. An argument against HB 599 went that the extra tax can buffer for an imprecise forecast but should a surplus manifest it can go to things such as roads construction, a point made by a Republican on the committee, state Sen. Eddie Lambert.
Yet HB 147 accounted for this by allowing spending only up to 98 percent of predicted revenues. That provides the buffer and could shunt money to needs like transportation without having the additional tax. But fiscal prudence runs counter to the tax-and-spend ideology of Louisiana Democrats (and their fellow travelers among Republicans), so the panel beat back that bill as well.
These events illuminate why Louisiana at best has treaded water over the past four years while other states, particularly its neighbors, have provided greater opportunity and hope for all their citizens. A fatuous set of politicians game the system, spout cheap rhetoric, and promote pernicious policy to thwart any meaningful attempts to move forward. Only through their dismissal, by term limits or elections, will anything change.