There was basically only one thing lawmakers really had to do during the 2017 legislative session. They had to pass the budgets that fund the state’s operations and construction projects. There were also some things they really needed to do, such as avoid the coming fiscal cliff, fix our broken tax structure, and begin to invest in our crumbling infrastructure.
Those are all really important things and the fact that the Legislature couldn’t do even one of them is a troubling commentary on the state of affairs in Louisiana right now.
Sadly, it appears that our Legislature is more divided than our people or our state. The political fracture within the Capitol building is palpable, and at times you have to wonder to what end.
How many among us even remember that the big fight in the earlier special session wasn’t over some life or death issue, but over how much of the rainy day fund should be used to avoid cuts to higher education, public schools and health care? Probably no one because they didn’t care. And how many citizens do you think realize the meltdown in the regular session was about whether to spend the state tax dollars that we officially have, or save some of them and instead cut higher education, corrections, and health care? Probably the same.
In the scheme of things, those aren’t earth shattering issues, which makes you wonder why they couldn’t work them out within the time allotted rather than forcing another costly special session? In a word, it’s politics. There’s plenty of culpability to go around on a variety of fronts, but at the end of the day, it’s politics and that’s what the public says it’s so tired of.
The point is that people expect their government to work. They’re not paying attention to all the details of the infighting. They just want it to work. Sadly, that wasn’t the case this session.
Is it the end of the world? No. Lawmakers will probably come back and fix all this and we may well be left to wonder what the big deal was all about.
And not to sound too naïve, but maybe the meltdown could also mark a turning point. Maybe our state leaders will reflect on this session and realize that in many ways it was a disservice to our state, created even more cynicism among voters, and made their job harder than it already was.
We know we have to pass a budget, but we also have some much bigger and more chronic issues to deal with. Politicizing them in worse ways than they already are gets us nowhere. Louisiana can turn that corner and move forward. It would seem that fixing our fiscal problems, investing in roads, and stabilizing education would be better legacies than fighting over budgets and living off of temporary taxes.
It’s still not too late for that to become a reality.