State lawmakers wrapped up the regular legislative session Thursday without a balanced budget in place. The Legislature failed to work out some minor differences in a $29-billion budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The big story coming out of the session, though, was the House of Representatives acting independently from the governor for the first time since Edwin Edwards’ initial term in office from 1972-1976.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare House Speaker Taylor Barras to Bubba Henry, who served as speaker some 45 years ago. Not only are their management styles polar opposites, Henry was a leader among a group of reform-minded lawmakers known as the Young Turks. Barras was elected speaker because Rep. Cameron Henry, a firebrand conservative from Jefferson Parish, couldn’t muster enough votes to become speaker, while Rep. Walt Leger, a liberal from New Orleans, couldn’t put together a winning coalition either. Barras represented a compromise, and since day one of his tenure as speaker, Barras has been forced to operate anticipating that a coup could erupt at any given moment. So far, he has survived. So far.
The only trait Edwards and the current governor, John Bel, have in common is they share the same last name. Their management styles are light years apart, too, but then again, the state of the state is far different today than it was some four-plus decades ago. Edwin Edwards had a constitution to rewrite, which to this day is hailed as one of the best state constitutions in the country. The state’s economy was on the upswing back then as well thanks to a rather robust oil and gas industry and commodity prices that actually provided farmers with enough breathing room to make some money.
Meanwhile, Edwards, the current governor, seems singularly focused on raising taxes to fuel the growth of a state government that appears to know no end in its reach into the lives of Louisianians from all walks of life. That’s not meant as a criticism of the current governor. It’s just who he is and what he wants his administration to achieve.
In the meantime, lawmakers can’t leave Baton Rouge for another 10 days. They also know much work must be done over the next year to avoid a financial meltdown in state government. All of those temporary taxes the Legislature approved at Edwards’ behest are scheduled to roll off the books effective July 1, 2018, leaving a roughly $1-billion hole in the budget for lawmakers to tackle heading into an election year. Talk about bad timing. For all of them, including a governor whose approval rating has been on the decline since last fall.
Edwards has no choice but to call lawmakers into a special session at some point before the 2018 regular session to tackle revenue issues since regular sessions held in even-number years can’t delve into tax-raising matters. Whenever that special session occurs, you can count on Edwards encountering resistance from conservatives in the House who believe raising taxes isn’t the way to go. Obviously, the governor disagrees with them.
As the session neared an end last week with uncertainty in the air over whether a deal on the budget could be reached, Edwards put the Legislature on notice that he could call a special session to begin as early as 30 minutes following the conclusion of the regular session. He described the call as a cautionary tactic in case the House and Senate couldn’t iron out their differences over how much money to spend over the next year.
Playing chicken with the budget is a bad move for any governor, especially in a setting in which the voting public seems dead set against giving government any additional money to spend.
Sam Hanna Jr. is publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, and he serves in an editorial/management capacity with The Concordia Sentinel and The Franklin Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com