We need only to reflect upon the actions of the Senate Finance Committee last week to recognize Gov. Bobby Jindal has a firm grip on the legislative process thus far in the fiscal-only session of the Legislature.
It was there that members of the committee listened to one witness after another, including parish presidents, sheriffs and school officials, explain the dire consequences that would emerge for local governments throughout Louisiana if lawmakers signed off on Sen. Robert Adley’s bill to repeal the state inventory tax. It was gut-wrenching testimony to say the least.
Obviously it wasn’t compelling enough, for the committee eventually voted 9-1 to advance Adley’s legislation to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Ed Murray of New Orleans cast the lone “no” vote.
The Finance Committee’s decision to hear the Adley bill may have been a surprise to some observers of the political process, but anyone who’s been around the camp fire long enough knows there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Or move legislation, for just two days earlier, another inventory tax repeal bill authored by Adley was shelved in the Senate Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee. That bill fell by the wayside after Greg Albrecht, chief economist at the Legislative Fiscal Office, advised members of the Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee that Adley’s proposition would yield little money for the state in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Miraculously, by Wednesday, those figures had changed, and lawmakers, particularly members of the Senate Finance Committee where Adley’s other inventory tax repeal bill would be heard, were now armed with a projection that claimed a repeal of the inventory tax would gin up some $450 million for the state in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Who says a decimal here or a comma there doesn’t make a difference? Better yet, who says Senate President John Alario doesn’t know a thing or two about overcoming something as silly as a reluctant committee?
And since Alario, an ex officio member of the Senate Finance Committee, sat in on Wednesday’s hearing to “observe,” it was a forgone conclusion Adley’s bill would come out of committee one way or another.
The company line leading up to consideration of Adley’s two inventory tax repeal bills was the Senate needed to do something to kick start serious discussions in the legislative session as lawmakers grapple with a projected $1.6-billion revenue shortfall. Truth be known, the Senate had to do something since the chairman of the committee in the House of Representatives that holds jurisdiction over any revenue measures refused to budge until the Senate acted on the inventory tax proposition. Rep. Joel Robideaux of Lafayette chairs the House Ways & Means Committee, which, you guessed it, is the committee in which all revenue bills must originate.
Robideaux is an ambitious man. He’s got plans to run for mayor in Lafayette. The last thing Robideaux needs is to be known as the chairman of a committee that dumped hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes on the backs of Louisianians in Jindal’s last year in office.
That brings us back to Adley’s bill to repeal the inventory tax.
Jindal has maintained that he will veto any budget bill that results in any net increase in tax revenues for state government. So the thinking among the thinkers is repealing the inventory tax would cut spending by some $400 million-$500 million. Meanwhile, lawmakers would be free to raise some $400 million-$500 million in new taxes, keeping in step with Jindal’s “no new net revenues for state government” pledge. Or something to that effect.
And Robideaux, astute as he is, wouldn’t allow a tax-raising measure to be heard in his committee until the Senate showed some good faith on its side of the Capitol. Smart move by him.
It’s unlikely the Legislature, as a whole, will go along with repealing the inventory tax in one fell swoop. Though a certainly reasonable proposition for the business community, the inventory tax represents a huge sum of money for local governments throughout Louisiana. Without it, many local governing bodies will go broke overnight.
And no lawmaker in his right mind wants come home after the legislative session, look some local official in the eye and say, “Good luck.”
Sam Hanna is a state political writer