The 2021 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature closed with confirmation of the utter failure of leadership of its Republican majorities, at the hands of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate Pres. Page Cortez.
All around them in neighboring southern states, enlightened bill after enlightened bill made it into law. Matters such as net income tax cuts, concealed carry of firearms without permit, protection of children from genital mutilation or harmful drugs, ensuring fair play for female scholastic and college athletes, preventing the teaching of neo-racism in schools and in government seminars, making election administration less amenable to outside influences, and budgeting that didn’t kick cans down the road all will become law in these places.
Likely none of this will happen in Louisiana. These others states did benefit from having Republican governors, although occasionally legislators had to override a misguided veto here and there. By contrast, Louisiana is saddled with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards – but like these other states have, on these issues working majorities of Republicans and a few Democrats or no party legislators here and there differing from issue to issue that could override a veto.
Exactly these kinds of bills not only were introduced during the session, but also versions of them typically made it far into the legislative process. Most the Legislature sent to Edwards. With the proper leadership, each that did had enough votes to override a veto.
Instead, Schexnayder and Cortez bungled it – perhaps intentionally. There’s no other explanation for why only one of about a dozen of these non-fiscal bills made it to Edwards in time for the chambers to hold override votes during the regular session – and when he vetoed as expected that bill, Schexnayder didn’t even bring up the matter for an override attempt. As for salvaging the remainder, because the leaders acted so dilatorily an unprecedented veto override session would have to occur to attempt overrides, a disruption to lawmakers that almost guarantees not enough enthusiasm will exist for the needed majorities to go to the trouble of calling one, so the vetoes will stand.
Cortez and Schexnayder also blew safeguarding line items in the bloated budget – which because of unwise reliance on one-time federal dollars that will disappear next year to leave a hole approaching half a billion dollars – even though this was one bill they did rush through just so the body could override such vetoes during the regular session. If Louisianans have learned nothing else about Edwards, they have discovered a mean and vindictive politician who will veto items aiding the districts of politicians who by their words or bill offerings cause him embarrassment and political damage, as well as language outlining controls the Legislature tries to place on his spending.
True to form, he vetoed eight items according to these tendencies in the operating budget, and vetoed four more in a supplemental bill which also beat the deadline. Yet Schexnayder and Cortez did nothing about it, either meekly submitting to Edwards’ will or providing silent agreement with his treatment of their institution and fellow Republicans.
Perhaps the pair was cowed by potential Edwards intervention into tax reform items, as his signature would be needed on several bills addressing this. Reform’s two main items simplified sales tax administration and essentially lowered income tax rates in exchange for dropping deductibility of federal income taxes.
However, constitutional amendments underpinning both still need voter ratification. And, while the sales tax change will lower compliance costs in doing business, the income tax changes don’t cut taxes in the aggregate and merely play musical chairs, raising taxes mainly for business which then will pass on the increases to consumers who might find their extra expenses offset by rate reductions.
Even though Schexnayder crowed about how he saw sales tax simplification as a significant achievement, in fact that and the income tax swap, considering the monumental changes necessary to bring about greater tax fairness such as by flattening rates, reduction of exemptions, and overall relief including lowering sales tax rates, these changes represent a drop in the bucket. Despite huge legislative majorities, the best Cortez and Schexnayder could provide was Mickey Mouse relief that hardly will make Louisiana more competitive and attractive to economic development. That’s more of an indictment of poor leadership than anything to celebrate.
Not much of value came out of the session. Obviously, Edwards’ role as obstructor-in-chief played a big part in that, but skillful, determined, and committed legislative leadership could have overcome this. Schexnayder and Cortez flunked on that account, and as a result Louisiana’s backwardness compared to its neighboring states has become even more obvious.