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LA poised to endure sales tax reimposition

Get ready for a wild and wacky weekend at Louisiana’s Capitol.

Whether, and by how much and when, sales tax hikes will reinstitute in the state starting Jul. 1 the Legislature largely will decide over the next few days. Additionally, the budget finally accepted by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards may find itself rearranged to some degree. And, a wild card courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court entered the equation.

In one corner, Edwards and his legislative party wants passage of a half-cent increase in sales taxes to replace the one cent rolling off Jun. 30. This represents a small bit of compromise from their initial preference of raising income taxes permanently, with them already having secured a temporary increase of some and an expanded earned income tax credit also due to sunset.

In the other corner, most Republicans, mainly in the House of Representatives, have signaled they will back one of three measures: a one-third cent increase, a two-fifth cent increase, or a half cent that decreases over time, all for five years duration only. Any of these positions reside considerably from their initial reluctance to raise any taxes at all.

To strengthen their hands, House Republican leaders have sent out a supplemental appropriations bill that rejiggers what cuts from the present baseline would have to occur. By setting some priorities where presumably more important items receive funding for anything less than the half-cent, this makes getting anything less more palatable. Whether the Senate, more controlled by Edwards, will accede is another matter.

Mixing things up more, today the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing states to collect sales taxes on remote purchases even from dealers without a physical connection in a state. This will give a shot in the arm to state coffers that bolsters the argument for less than a half cent or even no increase at all. Louisiana already put a mechanism in place to implement this quickly.

Unfortunately, politics may point to an increase, and, interestingly, towards the GOP option that at least begins the highest. Over the span of the envisioned five years, the half-cent-diminishing one actually in aggregate taxes calls for a lower percentage than five straight years at two-fifths, although it still comes out greater than the one-third option.

Given that the Legislative Black Caucus comprises almost a third of House membership and enough other Democrats would join it – never mind Republicans dead set against any tax increase – in opposing anything but the half-cent renewal, they can prevent the two-thirds majority needed to pass a tax hike. By contrast, the half-cent deal in the previous special session attracted a number of Republican votes but fell in total a half-dozen short from success. Watering it down through diminution could pick off enough of them while Black Caucus defections may not even occur – after all, that bargain would allow maximal revenue-raising through the end of Edwards’ term, which its members want.

So, Republican maneuverings have set things up for some trimming of government but not outright rejection of any tax hike. Even with the joker of a high court ruling that could moot any need for a tax increase – if not argue for a decrease – the next few days should see Louisianans continue to pay higher sales levies than they did three years ago.


Edwards may get what he wants on inmate total

Maybe Gov. John Bel Edwards should get what he asked for.

With the 2018 Third Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature commencing, the Democrat Edwards’ administration has launched a full-court press to ensure some kind of sales tax increase reoccurs as a result of it. Immediately after the end of the second edition, administration officials began circulating reports of various supposed calamities that would come from failure to reinstitute some kind of tax hike.

One such came from the Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc. He claimed that a $75 million reduction in budgetary authority would cause him to release 10,000 prisoners, specifically nonviolent ones not sex offenders housed in local jails, over the span of several months The state pays local authorities $24.39 daily to keep the overflow of state inmates for which Louisiana doesn’t have room in its own institutions.


Data erode Edwards' food stamps scare tactic

Call the bluff, in part if not totally, on food stamps.

With the 2018 Third Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature commencing, the Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration has launched a full-court press to ensure some kind of sales tax increase reoccurs as a result of it. Immediately after the send of the second edition, administration officials began circulating reports of various supposed calamities that would come from failure to reinstitute some kind of tax hike.

One came from the Department of Children and Family Services, whose Secretary Marketa Garner Walters proclaimed the budget without the increase signaled the end of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. She claimed the budget cut $34 million, which, given other priorities, meant the state would have to discontinue SNAP.


Frivolous LA suit part of far left's long game

If you can’t win by playing by the rules, try to use undemocratic means to change the rules, a frivolous suit aimed at reshaping Louisiana’s congressional districts illustrates – but with an eye on the long game.

An arm of national Democrats, the National Redistricting Foundation, recently filed suit in Louisiana plus two other states, alleging in all three instances the drawn congressional districts violate voting rights. In all cases, the proportion of black residents exceeds the proportion of seats held by black Democrats in Congress as set up by the respective districting plans.

This leads to complaints by plaintiffs that they can’t elect the candidates they want as their votes are “diluted,” referring to prohibitions in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Their only problem is, their position has been litigated for over three decades and found wanting.


Vindictive Edwards punishes Ouachita residents

Once is an accident. However, twice is not a coincidence but intentional, much to the chagrin of Ouachita Parish.

That’s the reality area legislators and local officials must accept regarding flood control. Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed – again –  state money for the River Styx pump station. The repairs would decrease the chances of flooding in the northeastern part of the parish, near CenturyLink headquarters and surrounding neighborhoods that suffered high water encroachment in 2016.

The year after that, area legislators placed the request in the state’s capital outlay budget. They did so near the end of the process because funding attempts by local government to procure federal dollars didn’t materialize. This also caused a Priority 5 assignment to the project, the lowest. The governor, despite the previous year’s flooding, vetoed it.


Edwards enters Round III weaker than ever

It’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards vs. Republican House of Representatives majority III, a showdown that, like some prizefights, basketball championships, etc. may prove less competitive than its predecessors.

Edwards called the year’s third special session because the lower House GOP will not accede to backing his requests to spend all outdoors. It will grant him spending all indoors, witnessed by the fact that in the second such session that a majority voted for reinstituting a third of a cent increase in the sales tax due to expire, but that offer, representing 80 percent of his desired total, his party found wanting and defeated that measure the second time it came up (any tax increase requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature).

Therefore, back to the salt mines go legislators, as Edwards attempts a sitzkrieg strategy to wear down House opposition (in the Senate his lapdog GOP Pres. John Alario has enough feckless Republicans to muscle through whatever the governor wants). Yet the call he made to do it illustrates how his position has weakened.


Obstructionism, amendment may risk innocent lives

As it turns out, in indirect fashion Louisianans may end up countenancing more murders beginning next year.

The regular legislative session that recently concluded didn’t produce any successful legislation directly affecting capital punishment, but one tangential to the issue will affect the practice’s effectiveness, depending on voter attitudes. That will put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that requires jury unanimity for felony convictions including capital sentences; presently, only 10 of a dozen jurors need agree to declare someone guilty.

Mathematically, this makes less likely a jury would convict an individual accused of murder, which increases the chances that a guilty suspect goes free. This translates to an increased chance of homicides occurring, as research demonstrates that every additional capital sentence carried out decreases the incidence of murder.


LA House Democrats throw Edwards under the bus

Either Louisiana House of Representatives Democrats did their level best to destroy their party’s Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reelection chances, or else he has so little influence that he can’t keep his party from melting down Louisiana government.

Last night (just about early this morning), the 2018 Second Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature ended in paralysis. The previous hour had seen some productivity for better or worse.

Worse was accepting HB 18 by Democrat state Rep. Katrina Jackson that expanded the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. A dozen Republicans who should have known better supported it, although at least they placed a hard sunset date on it. To fund it, they raised taxes on mostly higher-income earners. Also bad: the sunset date for this and discussed tax measures was all the way into 2025, leaving little incentive to right-size state government.


House must modify bad tax deal or reject it

The Louisiana House of Representatives should walk away from the state Senate’s bad tax-raising deal, unless that undergoes major, substantial revisions.

By the end of today, unless both chambers agree to this legislation and a budget, a third special session of the year likely would have to take place. Without a budget after Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a workable starter version from the regular session, that next iteration depends upon disposition of partial renewal of temporary taxes.

The House, through HB 27 by Republican state Rep. Lance Harris, proffered a five-year extension of a third of the temporary sales tax expiring in 27 days, plus continued suspension of about 100 credits, business utilities, and vehicle purchase exemptions. The Senate started with a half cent permanently, but passed a version extending to seven years.


LA GOP lawmakers must resist bad hikes, budget

In sparring with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and legislative Democrats over the budget and taxes, to best serve the people Louisiana’s legislative Republicans need to keep a few things in mind.

In the next few days, they will deal with HB 12 by Democrat state Rep. Walt Leger. Now identical (even if the Legislature’s website has failed to keep up with things as of this post’s publication) to HB 27 by Republican state Rep. Lance Harris after Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee action on both, it would extend into perpetuity a third of a penny temporarily put in place over two years ago, set to expire in a month. It also extends the items over which this sales tax would apply.

HB 18 by Democrat state Rep. Katrina Jackson also will come into the queue. It strips the exemption for income taxes paid in other states, which primarily hits middle-class-and-above tax filers. Both have passed the House and await Senate floor action.


Stokes to make Democrats, conservatives choose

If Louisiana Democrats eschew a Trojan Horse strategy for the secretary of state special election this fall, Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes will do her best to make that choice difficult.

Signaling her large appetite for political ambition, Stokes declared earlier this month for the office left open when its former elected occupant Tom Schedler resigned amidst charges of sexual harassment. At this time last year, she was out campaigning for the treasurer’s job that became available with GOP Sen. John Kennedy’s election.

But an unfortunate cancer scare led to her withdrawal just days before qualifying. Happily, she beat back that foe and returned to her legislative duties. Now she hopes to vanquish political opponents for the statewide job.


Memorial Day, 2018

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

With Monday, May 28 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Edwards gambles reelection for history reversal

Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has gone all in with a last desperate stand to grow state government – and which might backfire to cost him any hope of reelection.

Near the conclusion of the 2018 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature lawmakers passed a barebones budget that funded completely health care and elementary and secondary education, but left big cuts to some agencies through an across-the-board nearly 25 reduction from current spending levels. The Republican-controlled chambers then hoped in the following special session, currently meeting, to raise revenues and make supplemental appropriations to that.

But Edwards vetoed it. His goal all along has been to force the GOP majorities into, at the very least, making permanent tax hikes. Better, from his perspective, that these would hit incomes progressively and, best of all, rely more on corporate than individual incomes. He reinforced that in speaking to a pep rally just prior to the overtime session’s start, when he asked to renew as much as half of the expiring one cent sales tax, to remove some sales and incomes tax exemptions, and to raise income taxes on those who have large amount of federal income tax deductions.


Edwards ditches reform for politics as usual

In the end, the lure of a sensible, popular reform lost out to politics as usual as practiced by Louisiana governors.

At the beginning of the regular session just concluded, as part of his legislative package Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards included occupational licensing reform. It led to speculation that he might lead a move against unnecessary and onerous regulations that stifled business and professional development.

Louisiana has the nation’s worst record in that regard, particularly badly affecting lower-income jobs, which Republican state Rep. Julie Emerson wished to change with a raft of bills aiming to eliminate licensing requirements with no genuine basis for existence. A smattering of other bills, most notably HB 825 by GOP state Rep. Polly Thomas, hoped to do the same.


Kennedy vote fuels speculation of his future

That Republican Sen. John Kennedy reminded Louisianans of his populist tendencies presents another marker that he plans to challenge Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards next year.

Last week, the Senate narrowly voted to overrule the Federal Communications Commission’s rescinding of the so-called “net neutrality” rule. Imposed in 2015, that prohibited broadband providers from blocking content or charging differentially for its delivery, by reclassifying them as common carriers such as done with telephonic services.

The rule made for bad policy on a number of levels. Often shilled for as aiding consumers, it actually is anti-consumer in that it makes more difficult delivery of bandwidth-intense services. It removes complaints about broadband service from Federal Trade Commission jurisdiction, which has perfectly adequate tools to counter anti-competitive practices. It illogically classifies Internet service provision as a critical utility, and then stupidly singles out broadband as a monopoly, even though it must compete for Internet service with telephonic and satellite providers. Finally, contrary to claims that broadband providers would censor content, it makes no sense for them to do so because it diminishes the value of their product and what censoring has occurred comes from other sources.


GOP on the brink of preventing LA regression

The endgame has arrived, and Louisiana’s state Republicans have the advantage over Democrats and their leader Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Tuesday the Senate advanced HB 1, which contains almost $500 million fewer than Edwards wishes to spend. Today, it achieved House concurrence and goes to him for his signature. He hopes to add to those expenditures in a special session set to begin next week by engineering tax increases.

However, with passage of this budget Edwards has lost almost all of the leverage he has to grow state government permanently in the overtime session. This leaves him with a choice of vetoing that spending plan or not.

The Press-Herald column, May 16, 2018

The battle that never ends



Edwards pretends having control of budget

The only “pretend” associated with the Louisiana Senate moving a fiscal year 2019 budget to completion is the thought that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has any significant control over the process.

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee dealt with, and passed out, HB 1 by state Rep. Cameron Henry. The state’s general appropriations budget for next year as it came from the House contained noteworthy cuts to a largely standstill budget, about two thirds coming from Medicaid programs and about a quarter from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. These represented, respectively, about five and ten percent of each’s spending.

Edwards didn’t want to see any such action. All along, his strategy sought to pass no budget during the regular session, then in a special session increase taxes permanently mostly on income and weighed against corporations and write the budget according to that. If a budget emerges, he must sign it or else he becomes known as the guy who created chaos despite all his election promises to fix what he said ailed state government.


Posturing outrage distracts from real issues

He may be rude, crude, and boorish, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong.

State Rep. Kenny Havard made news yet again in a way perhaps he wished he hadn’t. A couple of years ago, he garnered infamy when his chamber considered a bill on sex trafficking with one provision raising the age limit for exotic dancing to 21. Supposedly as satire, he offered an amendment to raise this to 28 and to add a weight requirement.

This drew deserved approbation, but the reaction mattered more. It smacked of hypocrisy that legislators, led by a handful on the distaff side, would castigate him for implying the acceptability of objectifying women, yet politicians famously try to make themselves appear as attractive as possible precisely because that wins votes in an environment plagued with low information voters.


Aftermath of killing bill shows its necessity

Yesterday’s actions by the Louisiana Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee demonstrate exactly why HB 122, which it axed, is needed.

The bill, by state Rep. Phillip DeVillier, would bar state money going to nongovernment entities; raise local government contributions for outlay dollars with some exceptions; shuttle more money for highway, bridge, flood control and flood prevention projects, or to economic development projects; and would allow the chambers’ money committees to vet the list of projects that go before the State Bond Commission. Advocates noted that the current process prompted stuffing the list of projects beyond borrowing capacity, leaving it up to the SBC to pick and choose, over which the governor’s office held the most sway.

Thus, the bill had the salutary aspects of encouraging local governments to budget more responsibly for things they have fobbed off on taxpayers statewide, preventing the playing of favorites in dispensing taxpayer money to private interests, discouraging the fomenting of fictitious promises to build things from oversubscribed project lists, and reducing the politics of the process that enables outsized influence by a handful of individuals. So, naturally, the Democrat-majority committee killed it.


Democrats unlikely to go Trojan Horse for SOS

The upcoming special election for Louisiana Secretary of State puts the state’s Democrats in an awkward position, yet again. Yet this time doesn’t seem right to try for the half a loaf.

With former officeholder Tom Schedler resigning over alleged personnel improprieties earlier this month, the post has become vacant. The Constitution requires an election later this year to fill out a little more than a year of the term.

My Advocate colleague Mark Ballard writes that he knows of around 20 people expressing interest in the job. That it is an open statewide seat and occurs in an election cycle when almost all state offices and many local ones do not also have elections to determine their occupants will stimulate competition. With many not having to risk their current positions perhaps a dozen potentially viable candidates therefore may declare for it.


Unemployed Landrieu situated for next campaign

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu finally has no political office to hold for the first time in three decades. Look for him to want to change that as soon as possible.

It all begins with a run for president in 2020, now that today he turned over the reins of city government. Keep in mind that Landrieu has worked outside of government for just a few years, right out of law school, and knows nothing else but politics, especially growing up in the household of a former legislator, mayor, U.S. Cabinet member, and state judge.

Running as a Democrat, he must take this first step to add to his credentials for successive jobs in politics. He can’t win any statewide office because of his largely undiluted leftism and, outside of a judgeship which doesn’t seem to interest him, he can’t win any New Orleans-based post because he doesn’t identify as black (although the 1900 census lists his grandfather as black, and the 1880 census lists his great-grandmother, also notated as black on the same 1900 document, as mulatto.)


TOPS changes continue going the wrong way

An issue the Louisiana Legislature continues to address poorly a House of Representatives panel this week kept that pattern going.

Yesterday, the House Education Committee passed along HB 399 by state Rep. Gary Carter. It would alter, whenever the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students did not receive full appropriation, the present across-the-board reduction algorithm. Instead, higher-achieving students, defined as those earning the top two categories, would receive no cuts although losing their extra stipends while the remainder would keep theirs only if their families had annual incomes below around $50,000, although they could recoup some from Pell Grants.

Speaking against it, James Caillier of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation said the change would subvert the merit-based principle of the idea. Before the state took it over, the Foundation distributed awards on the basis of merit, although to lower-income students.


Democrats trying to subvert efficient LA govt

It’s now clear: Louisiana Democrats don’t want fiscal reform because it reduces their chances of propping up big government.

For years, policy-makers have lamented the straitjacketed nature of the state’s fiscal system. With nearly 400 different constitutional and statutory dedications, relatively little in the way of discretionary revenues exists. That makes the areas of health care, higher education, and corrections rely heavily on these dollars and unprotected when general income, sales, or excise tax revenue falls, thus disproportionately making that kind of spending vulnerable to cuts.

While a small number of dedications channel a large chunk of nondiscretionary bucks – perhaps the Minimum Foundation Program serving as the best example, creating the single largest expense in state government at around $3 billion – the many smaller ones do add up to hundreds of millions of dollars. And among these, no objective observer would dare to argue that a handful of them at best should have greater priority over those three larger concerns.


LA Legislature should push Schedler out the door

Refreshed embarrassment has come the way of Louisiana’s Republican Sec. of State Tom Schedler, and perhaps it’s more appropriate that he be ushered out the door rather than hoping he’ll do it himself anytime soon.

Last week, the Baton Rouge Advocate got ahold of cards sent from Schedler to and email messages between him and his former executive secretary, who has filed suit against him for sexual harassment. It had submitted a public records request for these, but according to it these arrived with redacted key passages that could shed light on the relationship. However, it also obtained unredacted versions, which, in the words of its editorialist, showed “a pattern of lewd and embarrassing language by one of the state’s top elected officials” that displayed “a powerful public official making sex jokes and tasteless propositions on agency time.”

The snippet placed online by The Advocate, spanning just months, doesn’t reveal that egregious of communication, but I’m confident it wouldn’t have described the nature of the entire set of conversations errantly. (For readers otherwise unfamiliar with this, I am a weekly columnist for it.) And its stories about the release of these and reporting on an interview the former employee gave proved convincing enough for a very high-profile Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, to add his voice in calling for Schedler’s immediate resignation.