Shared from the 2018-06-10 American Press eEdition

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GOP didn’t get bills it wanted

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Jim Beam

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards made the right decision Friday when he issued his call for another special session to begin June 18. The session, he said, should be “laser focused on the task at hand — to address the fiscal cliff so as not to have crippling cuts” to major areas of state government.

The state has a budget for next year, but it’s underfunded by $648 million. Without something close to that amount, the governor said budget reductions to major state services would be necessary.

The Republican leaders in the Louisiana House wanted more in the session call, but didn’t get it. They indicated in a letter to Edwards another special session could end in failure if their demands weren’t included.

That is another one of the GOP’s “our way or the highway” ultimatums.

Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, and chairman of the House GOP Delegation, signed the letter. Others in the GOP leadership are Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Rep. Cameron Henry, RMetairie.

The sixth special session held since Edwards took office in 2016, most of them aimed at trying to close budget deficits, ended in failure when two different tax bills designed to help fund next year’s budget died in the House. They died primarily because of Republican opposition.

Harris said the GOP wanted spending limits, government transparency and broader authority for the state auditor in the session call. Edwards said two of those issues have been debated extensively and were included in the last special session call. The auditor already has the authority he needs, the governor said.

Republicans are upset about Edwards expanding Medicaid and want the auditor to look at the state Department of Revenue’s income tax records of Medicaid recipients. Medicaid is the federal-state health care program for poor and low-income citizens.

Some Republican lawmakers keep insisting many of those folks have lied about their income on forms they fill out to qualify for the program. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus consider that a personal attack on the poorest citizens among us, both black and white. The issue helped kill an earlier special session, and it would happen again if it became part of the next session.

Harris sponsored one of the tax measures, a proposal to renew onethird of the 1 percent temporary state sales tax approved in 2016. It fell about $248 million short of closing the deficit. Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, and the No 2 man in the House, sponsored the other bill that would have levied one-half of that temporary 1 percent tax. It still raised less than $648 million, but would have been sufficient to plug major holes in the budget.

The Senate came up with Leger’s half-percent state sales tax because Harris had insisted since he first proposed his one-third percent tax it was the only solution the House would accept. A Senate committee chairman had to remind him a compromise doesn’t happen until the upper chamber gets to make its proposal and the two chambers try for a middle ground.

The Leger bill came up near the end of the session and it was six votes short of the 70 (two-thirds) it needed. Harris then brought up his one-third percent tax bill and it got only 38 votes to 66 against.

Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, had changed her yes vote to no on the Leger bill before the count was official so she could request another vote. Sixteen Republicans voted for her motion to reconsider the bill, which was approved. However, the effort died when Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, ran out the session clock.

The Leger bill got 21 other Republican votes, proving there are members of the GOP who want to get something done. They included Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; and Frank Howard, R-Many, who also represents Vernon Parish.

Edwards said after the session ended he believes there are other Republicans who would consider voting for a one-half percent state sales tax.

“A clear majority in the Legislature wants to put our state’s budget challenges behind us, but were blocked in the last special session,” Edwards said in a statement Friday. “We have one more opportunity to get this right for the people of Louisiana.”

Unfortunately, some 20 members of the GOP Gang of No won’t vote for any taxes.

If something isn’t done at this next session, TOPS scholarships will be funded at only 70 percent and college and university budgets will be reduced by nearly 25 percent. Other reductions would take place in corrections, early childhood education, children and family services and state support for sheriffs and district attorneys.

Edwards said he hoped Harris and his party would work with him to properly fund the budget. However, since the Republican leadership didn’t get what it wanted, that may be a long shot.

We can only hope some solution is found so legislators can go home and stay there until next year.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

‘A man should always consider how much he has more than he wants.’
— Joseph Addison

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