Back to the future
Gov. John Bel Edwards should consider a name change. Edwin Edwards comes to mind, for Edwin Edwards perfected the art of using the state’s purse strings to extract votes from lawmakers for legislation that EWE deemed a necessity. He was especially effective at it when the time arrived to pass a tax.
Sound familiar? The state’s purse strings, after all, center on House Bill 2, otherwise known as the capital outlay bill. Which also is known as the bill that the governor and the legislative leadership use to steer tax dollars to projects of local concern to a local lawmaker. Rural lawmakers, in particular, love capital outlay.
For years, country lawmakers have traded votes for state funding for something that might seem trivial to a city slicker. In rural Louisiana, though, state funding for some new sewer lines or some asphalt for some overlay or an upgrade to a water plant in a small town means everything.
In many instances, a lawmaker’s ability to deliver the pork (capital outlay) means the difference between getting re-elected or sent home to face the music. And no lawmaker wants to get sent home involuntarily.
So, when the state House of Representatives failed to pass House Bill 2 on Monday afternoon June 6th and kicked the matter to the special session that got underway Monday evening, it was as if we were headed back to the future. Edwin Edwards came to mind, for it was crystal clear the current governor had taken control of the capital outlay bill to use as a bargaining tool in the special session in which lawmakers are being asked to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes.
What works better in convincing a legislator to vote for a tax? Money, of course, for some thing or some project a lawmaker needs to keep the natives happy on the home front. The natives, of course, would be the constituents.
In polite company, it’s called the “process.” Some lawmakers are more “sensitive” to it than others. Successful governors are well versed in it. So, don’t be surprised if you see Edwards cobble together enough votes in the House and Senate to
pass the bulk of his tax package in the special session. The coalition of lawmakers who’ll deliver for the governor will be members of the Black Caucus and lawmakers, regardless of party, from rural districts. Freshmen lawmakers will be in the mix, too, because they need to prove themselves to the people who elected them less than a year ago.
They’ll all line up like hogs at a trough, and they’ll all happily trade their votes on the taxes in exchange for some capital outlay money for some penny-ante project back home that doesn’t mean a hill of beans to anyone except the people who will use it or the people who will make money doing it. Edwards will direct this charade while claiming he’s fixin’ the budget for TOPS and health care and K-12 public education and anything else that might deliver a vote for his re-election in 2019.
In this Legislature, state Sen. Francis Thompson of Delhi is the dean of the process. He learned at the feet of the master, the late Sen. B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn. No one understood the process as well him.
Those of you who live and work in northeastern Louisiana, take a look around. At some point you’ll encounter a road or bridge or possibly a golf course or a lake that was built with state funding courtesy of Francis Thompson. If he hadn’t secured the money for it, it wouldn’t have become a reality.
Lawmakers of all stripes and colors would be well served to pay Thompson a visit to get some pointers. Chances are they’ve got a project of local concern that needs some attention in the capital outlay bill, and the tax votes ahead represent a prime opportunity to engage the process. Or line up at the trough.
And if any of them are paying attention, the state highway that runs in front of the home I grew up in on Lake Concordia to Lake St. John in Concordia Parish, Highway 568, needs some asphalt for some overlay. Got it?
Sam Hanna is a state political writer.