Yet another special session of the Legislature starts Monday. Unlike last year’s two sessions, this one won’t be about raising new revenues, but making more cuts to balance the current year’s budget. Predictably, there are differences of opinion between various factions within the Legislature and the governor about just how to do that.
And while it’s too early to say how this session will actually play out, there are many who feel whatever the outcome, it could have a major impact on what happens in the upcoming regular session. That’s the one where lawmakers will be asked to provide a permanent fix to the budget woes that have beset the state for most of the last decade.
That’s why, for the good of Louisiana, what we need to see out of the special session is a “win-win.”
A group of Republican lawmakers has drawn somewhat of a line in the sand and said they don’t want to tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund to solve this year’s budget shortfall and they want to see budget cuts that make permanent reductions in state spending.
The administration has countered that we need the Rainy Day Fund to stave off more serious cuts to health care and protect higher education. They would prefer to use money maneuvers to avoid the worst cuts in the current year, with the notion that more permanent spending reductions might be proposed in the governor’s budget for next year.
On the one hand, those positions seem rather diametrically opposed, and maybe they are. But do they have to be? Perhaps not.
Here’s a “what if’ scenario which may be a pretty big “what if,” but maybe worth thinking about. Some key House Republicans are working to identify cuts that they believe are legitimate and could be made permanent in a way that actually reduces the size of government. Assuming that they are specific, seen as generally acceptable to most lawmakers, and not just put out there as a political gimmick, what if the governor embraced at least some of them?
And what if the governor agreed to make those cuts, but insisted that at least a portion of the Rainy Day Fund was still needed to mitigate some of the short-term impacts and the Republicans went along with that? Where would that put them? Potentially in a win-win situation – both sides getting a little something.
Obviously, this scenario is somewhat simplistic, but hopefully it’s not totally naïve. The point is, this is the way our governors and legislators used to operate in the less-partisan days of the past and how they accomplished things in the best interests of the state. The results weren’t always pretty, but that was how big problems were addressed.
What’s critically important about this, though, is that getting through the special session isn’t the big problem. Emerging from the regular session with a plan in place to stabilize our finances and end the chronic uncertainty that has crippled our state is.
But solving the big problem won’t happen – now or in the future – if both sides don’t feel like they can trust each other, work with one another, and go back home when it’s over, thinking they made a positive difference for the state and its citizens.
On the national scene today, something like this could only be considered a pipedream. Maybe it is in Louisiana, too. But isn’t there some value for the politician who can look constituents back home in the eye and tell them: “Things in Baton Rouge were broken. I did what I had to do, and we finally fixed the big problem.”