So, what can we expect out of the 2020 Second Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature? Optimistically, policies for economic improvement and a better way to govern in times of emergency – aspirations not shared by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The session seems to aim at the latter issue first and foremost. Starting next Monday, lawmakers will have 30 days – a week before elections if it goes the distance – to sort out a list of items more extensive than the month-long first such session tackled. Some are small items that could have waited, but most deal with the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
The call appears to indicate the Republican majority will pursue several intertwined tracks. As Edwards continues to use statutory powers to keep more restrictions on personal interactions than most states that keep entire swaths of the economy almost entirely closed – even as the state suffers with the worst indicators of all the states and follows a plan almost entirely at odds with what worked in Sweden – the call leaves plenty of room to change that.
At best, Edwards, who stood by while legislators brought themselves into the extra session, shows indifference to the entire effort, as if everything is fine with the nation’s worst affected state economy by the pandemic and his policies in response. “I am hopeful that the legislative leadership will significantly narrow the scope and the duration of this session so that they can do the work they deem necessary, while at the same time working in a bipartisan and cooperative manner,” he pithily declared – because he won’t like what happens.
Starting with something coming forth like legislation that allows a governor 30 days to impose health emergency measures, but to extend anything beyond that point would require some kind of legislative approval. Naturally, Edwards will want to veto that, but if the GOP leadership has any smarts, it will threaten to use provisions under existing law to veto whatever his then-current, likely-excessive regulations might be unless he signs off on this reform legislation that should take effect immediately – better late than never.
Along with that should come a series of tax cuts, spending reductions, and repurposing of appropriations. The cuts could soften the economic blow to the state, paid for by the reductions, with further monies from that redirected to shore up the depleted unemployment insurance trust fund and assist local governments in compensating for lost tax revenues caused by the imposed economic slowdown. Beyond across-the-board belt tightening, scaling back or eliminating just a trio of wasteful programs – Medicaid expansion, the Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit – could save hundreds of millions of dollars remaining in this fiscal year.
Again, Edwards, whose agenda seeks to keep state government as large as possible, won’t acquiesce to this. His strategy is to lead with an absence of leadership – praying that national Democrats in six weeks win elections to control all majoritarian institutions who then will launch a spending orgy to bail out profligate states causing long-term detrimental economic effects – and won’t accept cuts anywhere willingly. That contrasts with a number of other states, who have started budget-cutting measures already.
That also stands in great contrast to Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who called a special session two months after the hurricane disasters of 2005 and another three months later to deal with looming fiscal issues. Before and during these she voluntarily began cutting back on state spending, cooperating with legislators utilizing executive orders so that they didn’t have to file bills (except when dealing with the Minimum Foundation Program or transfers from the Budget Stabilization Fund) implementing such changes.
The Edwards Administration will insist that no budgetary problems for this fiscal year currently exist, and by extension no need for a special session. Of course, almost $600 million in federal funding due to run out halfway through the fiscal year boosts revenues at present and its view discounts an unemployment trust fund deficit likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars the payback for which would be reflected beginning next fiscal year, plus ignores the estimated $714 million shortfall local governments face for this fiscal year.
Republicans will have to be clever either to force Edwards’ hands with the cuts and redirections or to capture at least a couple of House Democrats and/or no party legislators to make veto attempts futile. One potential weapon to overcome intransigence is setting a date for constitutional amendments that Edwards can’t block that emanate from the session.
Perhaps most notably in a larger political sense, the call signifies how the GOP legislative majority regards Edwards as an obstacle to solving state problems. By the time the session ends, they hope to have reduced him to an inconvenient speed bump to progress.