Not Many Positives Out of Special Session

It’s hard to know just what to make out of the just completed special session and what it all means for the future, but just about any way you size it up, it doesn’t look particularly good. Lawmakers did manage to close all but about $30 million of the $956 million budget shortfall that was looming between now and June 30, but that’s about all they did. They didn’t finish their business.

In leaving the budget $30 million short, they forced the governor to make more cuts which, interestingly, they themselves couldn’t seem to make. And then they left next year’s budget with a hole of as much as $800 million with no clear idea in sight of how to deal with that. One could say they provided a “fix” of sorts to the most immediate crisis, but certainly no solution. And a solution is what we need.

If you think about it, the answer they came up with was basically just to raise sales taxes. That’s in a state with one of the highest state/local sales tax rates in the country, which on April 1 will become the very highest rate at more than 10 percent in some parishes.

Because of the way legislators went about it, they spread the taxes around pretty well so that just about everyone is affected – businesses and individuals. But it really wasn’t good tax policy. It is true that given the immediate need to get money into the treasury quickly, sales taxes were about the only option, but they’re not a long-term answer.

In fact, the way they passed they’re not long term at all. They’re slated to roll off the books in 27 months and there goes more than a billion dollars. And therein lies the problem. We have a permanent structural problem in our budget totally apart from the price of oil and we addressed it with another temporary tax.

After seven years of legislators complaining about the previous governor “kicking the can down the road,” they themselves kicked it again.

After many complained that the governor and the administration didn’t start with enough budget cuts, they looked under the hood and couldn’t find many either.

And after statement after statement about the need for more structural spending reform, they failed to pass the one bill in the session that amounted to a significant spending reform and which would probably protect us from getting into future budget messes like the one we find ourselves in now.

The point is that our elected leaders, particularly those in the Legislature, need to step up and address this problem that has plagued Louisiana for close to a decade now. That problem is pretty clear – we spend more money than we take in. The solution is clear, too – you make your expenses equal your revenues by cutting, raising revenues or a combination of both. Yes it’s hard, but how long can we keep on doing the same thing we’re doing?

Higher education and our health care system can’t take it anymore, and neither can our people.

Certainly, dealing with all of this isn’t easy, but we have pretty much reached the point, if we haven’t already passed it, where we need to straighten this out. To the Legislature’s credit, a number of lawmakers made tough votes, introduced well-thought-out legislation and provided strong leadership in the best interests of our state. Others seemed to choose a more political path and certainly that’s the nature of the beast.

But this year-after-year cycle of crises is taking its toll on our state. And though we’ve just ended a special legislative session that was supposed to solve the problem, it appears we’ve just prolonged it.

That’s unfortunate.

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