It seems an interesting coincidence that the movie Groundhog Day celebrated the 25th anniversary of its release earlier this month. The story of the weather guy who keeps reliving the worst day of his life over and over again certainly feels like the budget debate we’ve had in Louisiana over the last 10 years and the special sessions that have tended to be downright tortuous. But maybe, like the movie, this one will have a happy ending.
If it does, it probably won’t be without some drama as we saw very clearly in the opening days. That’s unfortunate and should be unnecessary. All indications heading into the session were fairly upbeat. The governor and legislative leaders were talking and it seemed that even though there were differences, both sides were closer and having more substantive dialogue than any time before.
And then on the third day, the wheels began to fall off.
First, the House Ways & Means Committee didn’t have the votes to move any of the major tax measures and then Republican legislation to make changes in Medicaid got bottled up in the Health & Welfare Committee. The Speaker’s bills on budget transparency and spending limits made it to the floor, but there’s been no action.
At one point there was talk of the session shutting down before the first full week was over. Really? Are our elected leaders truly incapable of resolving issues that they know better than the back of their hands?
No, they can do it. Fortunately, it looks like they’re putting the wheels back on and will try to start over, but it shouldn’t come to that. These are the very same issues the state has been grappling with for years. The fiscal cliff of losing more than a billion dollars in temporary revenues has been coming since at least 2016. Many of the tax measures were considered at length in 2017.
When Ecclesiastes says “there is nothing new under the sun,” that’s pretty much the case with Louisiana’s budget and tax issues. So there’s no reason for this session not to be successful.
It’s not extraordinary for states to determine the level of spending they think is appropriate and fund it at a level that is considered sustainable. That’s called normal. Louisiana needs to get back to being normal. We need to make a permanent decision – whatever it may be – to resolve at least our budget issues during this special session.
Substantive fiscal reform on both the tax and spending side may have to wait, but the Groundhog Day experience of reliving these same fights and battles over and over again has to end. It has distracted us for too long and prevented us from focusing on other important issues like transportation, early childhood education, and pension reform.
If the governor and lawmakers were getting close to a deal before the session, they shouldn’t be moving farther away now. It’s time to move on and this is the session to do it.