A New Special Session, But Same Old Issues

In the “Here We Go Again” department, another special session to address the state’s budget issues is getting underway and the outcome seems anything but certain. Everyone knows the issues, everyone knows the options, and everyone knows they are now facing a real deadline. The question is what will actually make this one any different from the last one?

Without question the last special session ended on a sour note. Headlines labeled it a meltdown. There was talk about lack of communication, lack of trust, and even charges that some had lied about one thing or another.

There were also some fairly deep ideological divides. House Democrats were strongly opposed to continuing much of the expiring penny of sales tax without seeing some accompanying changes in the state income tax. Republicans were more supportive of the sales tax, but didn’t want to tinker with the income tax.

And while there was probably a majority of House members who were willing to bridge that divide, there wasn’t the super-majority needed to pass most of the revenue measures that were on the table. The session ended with a House of Representatives divided and it’s unclear how much that has changed in the ensuing weeks.

One thing that has changed is the deadline. It’s getting closer. Another is that after several weeks of rearranging items in the budget, no one has even suggested the state can get by without renewing some portion of the expiring taxes. The question is which taxes will they renew and how far will they go?

The governor says the state needs about $650 million to fund what he believes are the state’s most important services. House Republicans acknowledge some portion of that is indeed needed, but there is a difference of opinion on what that dollar amount should be and no word on what should be cut if the Legislature were to fill only some of the funding gap.

Once again, we’ve been down that road before. It is long past time to resolve these issues and move on. It is our hope that the House of Representatives, where both the budget and revenue measures must start, will begin to work quickly. The budget has been debated at length already. The issues surrounding it are apparent to all and a version of the budget can be easily constructed by the Appropriations Committee and moved to the floor.

Likewise, the potential revenue measures are essentially the same ones that were on the table in the first special session. Lawmakers are familiar with them and know how much each will raise. They, too, should be heard in committee expeditiously and sent to the floor in such a way that the full chamber has a menu of options to consider. It doesn’t mean that the full House has any obligation to pass them all, but members should be able to have the chance to consider all reasonable options.

A failure to provide those choices could lead to another special session meltdown and that would serve no one’s interests – not students who are waiting to see what happens to TOPS and higher education, nor the state’s most vulnerable citizens who need some certainty about what their future holds.

From CABL’s perspective, we also hope that whatever revenues are raised will be made permanent. Permanent, in this case, doesn’t mean forever, it just means they remain in place until they are changed. And permanency shouldn’t be considered a political issue. It’s a practical one that sends a message to citizens and businesses that they won’t be put on this distracting roller coaster every one, or two, or three years.

Temporary taxes were bad government in the 1990s when they flourished until Gov. Mike Foster was finally able to get rid of them and they remain a form of bad government today.

Surely, our elected leaders must recognize that the people and businesses of our state are tiring from this inability to resolve the state’s most basic function – to determine its means and live within them. The time for waiting is over. The time to resolve this impasse is now.

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