Compared to sessions and special sessions over most of the last decade in which the nicest way to describe them would probably be contentious, the 2019 legislative session seemed downright tame. The reason in a word – money. They had some this time and instead of fighting over budget cuts or new taxes, the focus was mostly on where to spend it.
The big area, where everyone seemed to agree, was teacher pay raises. They all wanted to give them. The only bone of contention, if you really want to call it that, was over how much and whether local school districts should also get some additional revenues.
In the end the governor’s plan for a $1,000 pay raise for teachers and $500 for support workers, won the day, as did his plan to send almost $40 million to schools. Early childhood education got some additional funding – though it’s short of what’s really needed – and so did higher education. For the last several years at least, most of this would have been pretty much unthinkable.
One big surprise this year was the passage of HB 578, which will ultimately send almost $700 million dollars from the BP oil settlement toward a variety of highway infrastructure projects that will eventually touch virtually every region of the state. Not surprising was the fact that an effort to increase the fuel tax to fund other transportation projects never got off the ground.
To be sure, there seemed to be about the usual number of bills that turned into high-profile issues, some that pushed the state into the national spotlight. But still the battles were more low-key than we’ve seen in years past.
In the “what a difference a year makes” category, Harrah’s won a new 30-year contract with the state to operate its casino in New Orleans and legislation was finally approved to make it easier for ride sharing companies to operate statewide. But sports betting, which many thought would have a good chance of passing after being killed last year, died a slow death through the final minutes of the session.
If the past is prelude as they say, this year’s legislative session might be seen as a preview of the rest of this election year and legislative sessions to come.
While the passage of that transportation bill was big and the failure of the fuels tax expected, further investment in infrastructure is an issue that won’t go away. Similarly, there were a lot of tax reform bills that weren’t really part of an organized package and never gained much traction, but they also set the stage for a serious debate that many still want to fix a state tax structure that is not as competitive with other states as it should be.
One can also expect further investments in early education and higher education to remain on the discussion table, as well as efforts to modernize our constitution.
In fact, all of these issues are part of a nonpartisan statewide election agenda called RESET Louisiana’s Future, that CABL is promoting along with the Public Affair Research Council and the Committee of 100 for Economic Development.
We believe this is an agenda that looks to the future and seeks to move the needle in a positive way on education outcomes, state fiscal policies, transportation needs, and criminal justice reform. This legislative session may not have been the time to fully debate all of them, but this election year is.