With the 2017 legislative session winding down, it’s hard for those who wanted to permanently fix Louisiana’s uncertain fiscal situation to view the session with anything but disappointment. That’s especially true since it’s all but certain this session will end June 8 with another special session on the horizon to deal with issues that went unaddressed this time around.
One can argue about the budget and our spending practices as a state, but that won’t change the fact that somewhere around a billion dollars of temporary taxes will expire on June 30. No one has figured out how to cut anywhere near a billion dollars out of the budget, so that suggests that most of those temporary taxes will have to be either extended or replaced with something that makes better sense.
This was the session where we were supposed to do that.
It was CABL’s hope that we would choose not to extend a temporary sales tax that gives our state the highest state and local sales taxes in the country. Instead we advocated taking that tax back down to where it was in 2015 and replace the revenue with other sources that would be fairer and improve our overall tax policy.
As things stand now, it appears the Legislature will actually do neither of those things and opt to come back at some other date in the future to theoretically take another shot at some sort of permanent solution. At this point there are still a handful of bills in play that could result in some sort of fiscal reform. That’s good news. But they don’t raise any money. So while they do make our state’s tax structure more simple and more competitive, they don’t really fix the bigger problem of disappearing revenue.
Ironically, while we are trying to cut the budget and eliminate spending where we can, there are also a number of bills in play that if passed will actually cost the state tens of millions of additional dollars through changes in credits or exemptions. Some of them may very well have merit, as their proponents argue, but it continues to highlight the fact that we still haven’t reformed the way we handle our tax expenditures. We’ve trimmed the dollar amounts, but we haven’t prioritized the ones we need and the ones we don’t.
As for the budget, the usual stalemate between the House and Senate is playing out as it always does. The House cuts, the Senate puts back and then the two chambers spend the final days of the session trying to split the difference.
Usually they work it out, but the governor has inserted a couple of new wrinkles by saying if the Legislature sends him a budget with cuts that are too deep he will veto the bill, and he’s already called a special session starting when the regular session ends in case there is an impasse.
To be sure, other states faces issues like these, but not many of them last almost a decade with seemingly no end in sight. It seems to be getting tiring for many legislators, but it’s also tiring for our state. We have always been near the bottom of so many rankings, but we hit a stretch not so long ago where we were beginning to move up. Sadly, in recent years bad practices have caught up with us and now we see some of our progress being reversed.
It is within the purview of our state to change that. We can stabilize our finances, improve our tax structure, bring up our bond ratings, and make Louisiana more competitive. And while it is true there are some things we can’t change, those are all things we can.
It’s just that we don’t seem to be in any hurry to do so.