SADOW: The New Conservative Caucus Is Already Getting Results

The new Louisiana Conservative Caucus doesn’t promise the world, so it needs to pass its first test.

This new House of Representatives group of Republicans formed last month pledging fiscal conservatism, pursuing pro-life advocacy, and backing Second Amendment protections, and only adds new members after invitation. It largely mirrors the House GOP segment that in early 2020 voted for Republican state Rep. Sherman Mack to become Speaker, with 38 of its 41 confirmed members having supported Mack (two others won special elections to the chamber afterwards). The one exception who backed GOP Speaker Clay Schexnayder – as did all 35 Democrats, both independents, and 21 other Republicans (one other noninvited Republican recently won a special election) – GOP state Rep. Ray Garofalo – Schexnayder recently dumped as a committee chairman because Garofalo insisted on pursuing legislation that would forbid neo-racist ideas from propagation through the public schools and in state higher education.

Importantly, the LCC didn’t form, as has been implied, over Schexnayder selling out Garofalo after Democrats complained about the bill and the reaction to it. So far, it has limited its public intervention to one issue – a statement saying its members would vote against an attempt in HB 514 by GOP state Rep. Tanner Magee to maintain the 2016/2018 sales tax hike of 0.45 percent past 2025. Besides not intervening on behalf of Garofalo’s bill, it hasn’t gotten involved in controversy over bills forwarded by its member Republican state Rep. Valarie Hodges that would mandate teaching in schools pivotal moments in American history and civic literacy that a Senate committee watered down last week.

Nor does it appear willing to take on every bill related to fiscal matters. It remained silent on SB 173 by GOP state Sen. Sharon Hewitt that would extend the wasteful Motion Picture Investors Tax Credit a few more years and, as it turned out, about a dozen of its members supported the measure. However, the majority that didn’t were instrumental in preventing its passage.

And, it appears to have no interest in putting up a challenge to Schexnayder for the speakership, over his failure to throw any weight behind passing bills that reflect the group’s non-fiscal priorities. Part of that demurral may come from that it has just five members who are in their third terms; traditionally, speakers come from that cohort.

Plus, the group can wait as it will have a bit of a leg up next term with a governor surely less obstructionist than current version Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Additionally, while 36 of its members have at least one more term available, of the 27 non-member Republicans six will serve their last term. And, it already might be closer to a majority than numbers indicate; likely some of the GOP non-members might be sympathetic to the group but didn’t want to join publicly because this could hamper their abilities to work with Schexnayder.

Regardless, with its pledged numbers it has a veto power over tax matters and constitutional amendments, which require two-thirds votes to succeed. Thus, it goes to the head of the line if Schexnayder – who now finds himself with the smallest faction in the chamber when it comes to issues falling under the LCC ambit – wants to pass legislation of this kind, as his Democrat/no party allies have fewer numbers.

Two markers about the lengths to which it wishes to extend its power and its effectiveness immediately approach. Last week, HB 292 by Republican state Rep. Neil Riser (a member) was amended to include his HB 293. Depending on a constitutional change, this would drop the ability for corporations to write off federal income taxes but then change income tax rates with cuts primarily in the lower income range. It carries with it a fiscal note that indicates this would produce a tax increase of around $88 million, but ties itself to SB 161 by GOP state Sen. Bret Allain that extends corporate franchise tax exemption of about the same amount.

It gets kicked to the House for concurrence, while Allain’s bill rests there in the form of a conference report, the committee on which drafted it Riser and another LCC member Republican state Rep. Tony Bacala sit. That compromise induces a complicated system that, as state revenues do better, the more the tax would decline. How the Caucus views the distinct possibility it all will become a tax increase, or whether the issue seems important enough, will determine whether it decides to intervene.

And the Senate may be maneuvering for half a loaf, with the group imperiling the present version of HB 514. GOP state Sen. Barrow Peacock’s SB 1 would do a third of what HB 514 does, in that it diverts the last three years’ worth of the 0.45 percent avails to roads in escalating fashion. It has lay dormant in the Senate for weeks but suddenly has been scheduled for a floor vote early this week. The Caucus may relent on this as SB 1 ensures the tax expires. Plus, a bill to transfer more funds to actual roads construction, HB 40 by Republican state Rep. Mark Wright (a Caucus member), also dormant in the Senate for a couple of weeks, will draw a committee hearing there.

Providing inspiration to amending out the change to HB 514 that made the tax increase permanent that leads to the passage of SB 1 language forcing it to expire, along with making the corporate tax changes as revenue-neutral as possible in the next several years, will demonstrate a substantial, beneficial influence that the Caucus can have over policy.

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