The week of wackiness in Shreveport will push aside for the moment more analysis of the just-concluded back-to-back sessions of the Louisiana Legislature.
This space this week already has vetted the aspirations of an area state legislator to aim low and miss as well as the whininess (affirmed by their reaction to even-handed broadcast news about their activities) of cut-rate merchants of hate. But the news that Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins intends to offer the city as an experiment for a universal basic income was too good to pass up.
Earlier in the week, Perkins announced this, a part of a consortium of other mayors – all Democrats – who will follow what appears to be the Stockton (CA) Economic Empowerment Demonstration, where a leftist nonprofit called the Economic Security Project is fronting enough money to give $500 a month for 18 months to 125 adults in a particular neighborhood who make below the city’ median income. (This group receives funding from the group that started the States Newsroom, the umbrella organization of leftist news agencies in state capitals the Louisiana version of which came online last month.) If done similarly, this means about $1.125 million will find its way into the pockets of select Shreveporters.
HB 57 by GOP Speaker Clay Schexnayder in its final form accomplishes most of what Republicans wanted with tort reform. The issues involved, in order of impact in lowering vehicle insurance rates, are (1) lowering the amount in controversy, or the jury trial threshold, (2) calculating more accurately the actual costs involved to deal with injury, or collateral source, (3) eliminating the ability to sue insurance companies directly, or direct action, (4) allowing evidence of seat belt usage in a trial, or the seat belt gag rule, and (5) lengthening the amount of time to file these cases for hearing, or the prescription period.
Today, Edwards said he would refuse to let expire as planned this upcoming Friday proclamations that continue to restrict citizen liberties and commercial activity. He claimed that a “surge” of cases and especially hospitalizations since Jun. 8 triggered this move.
The data make this assertion questionable. On Jun. 8, the state had racked up 43,050 cases from 442,602 tests or an infection rate of 9.73 percent, with 582 people hospitalized. As of yesterday, cases stood at 49,778 from 610,812 tests or 8.15 percent infected, with 589 hospitalized. Federal guidelines to move into the next phase, which would expand commercial activity without restrictions for many businesses and discourage higher-risk people from more than minimal interactions with others but otherwise hardly restrict others, called for decreasing proportions of positive tests over the prior two weeks.
The Baton Rouge Advocate recently ran a piece displaying equal parts of wonderment and pique at how easily the Republican-led chambers, with the House of Representatives under Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate behind Pres. Page Cortez, have worked together to put liberal Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards on the defensive and advance a decidedly conservative agenda. But, like an alien looking at a snow globe of a pastoral scene to divine how life on Earth really goes on, writer Tyler Bridges can’t quite figure it out the reality of the situation.
To understand why not, a review from where Louisiana’s political culture and communication have developed is in order. Keep in mind that the state’s populist past, with its reform character stemming from the post-Reconstruction era then half a century later metastasizing into a centralizing and redistributionist Longism, allied with its longstanding reliance on personalism by which to judge its rulers, for about a century conditioned the public to accept at the state level bigger and more intrusive government than state voters tolerated from the national government starting after World War II. In other words, Louisianans less frequently translated their issue preferences into voting behavior, enthralled as they were with candidate personalities and captive to a distinct political culture.
Primarily the threat will menace young athletic participants. With renewed talk among professional athletes about protesting during the national anthem prior to contests, no doubt some high schoolers will wish to copy them, not realizing the ignorance they emanate or the cancerous attitude they court. Along the way, they’ll hear a lot of half-baked, if not patently dishonest, arguments trying to sanitize the idea of flag protests at sporting events.
Understand that the American flag represents symbolically government based upon a discrete set of principles establishing the American political order, attempting to achieve maximal liberty yet ensuring a necessary amount of equality: (1) acceptance of the principle of majority rule, (2) free exchange of opinion and information, (3) availability of realistic choices and actions for self-governance, (4) freedom to act upon one's belief, including the right to persuade others, (5) belief that government exists to serve human beings, not the reverse, (6) acceptance of government by law, not by man (better known as rule by law), (7) protection of the political rights of minority interests, and (8) equality before the law and in the opportunity to participate in its making.
That concerns a governor’s ability to control capital outlay funding. While over half of the cash portion is locked in to various transportation and coastal restoration spending plans, the rest and any bonded items policy-makers eventually decide which of and when these commence towards completion. This year, that would mean approaching $1 billion in cash items and three times that in others underwritten by bonds.
Historically, governors have two means of leverage using projects. First, the item has to make it into an appropriation bill (mostly in HB 2, the designated capital outlay bill, but others can sneak in through instruments like HB 1, the designated general appropriations bill). The governor has a line item veto power over these, which the Legislature can override if in session. Traditionally, the final products arrived too late in the session for such votes to occur, which would require a special veto override session that never has panned out since a majority of legislators are loathe to reconvene more than 40 days after the regular session, or at all, except under extreme circumstances. This made such vetoes unimpeachable and governors could use this to entice votes for or against legislation by holding a line item veto threat over projects for legislators’ districts.
Edwards set up this huge rendezvous with his veto of SB 418 by Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot. That bill would introduce a number of changes to the state’s tort law regarding vehicle accident disputes that would put the state in line with the laws in others that have far lower vehicle premium insurance rates.
In the final analysis, Edwards had to do it. With the bill having passed with two veto-proof majorities in the Senate and once with the same in the House although the other time a bit shy, it’s close enough of a margin that he might be able to avoid an override.
Earlier this week, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee sent to the floor a resolution to have a House-sponsored committee study law enforcement and policing, presumably in the state. Typically, bills like HR 13 by Democrat state Rep. Ted James would zip through committee and the chamber.
It didn’t because originally in part it read like this:
In the north, the University of Louisiana at Monroe is investigating the social media posts of two veteran faculty members. A tenured professor, Dennis Bell, recently made social media posts about the narrative pushed by the political left in the protests over the death in police custody of alleged bad money passer George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of two white and two Asiatic officers.
Bell opined that the political left’s support of protesting of a reputed nationwide systemic police brutality against blacks – a demonstrably false proposition – was a strategy to “keep blacks on the democrat [sic] plantation.” Additionally, a longtime assistant professor, Mary Holmes, posted in a manner that implied Democrat former Pres. Barack Obama was a simian.
Nationally, the number of newsroom employees at newspapers has dropped a stunning 51 percent in the last decade. Increased hiring into digital platforms has curbed this a bit, although much of that went to outlets outside of newspaper publishing. Together, all newspapers have seen a roughly 40 percent drop in circulation since 2012, but only a few of the largest (with more than 200,000 Sunday circulation, a level twice that of any Louisiana paper) have been almost the only able to offset this partially with increases in digital subscriptions.
Smaller local papers have experienced the worst of this, with the highest percentage paring of newsrooms and revenue losses. They particularly have struggled to entice online readership. This means a cutback in their reporting of state and local news.
This year and last year, Republican Sec. of State John Schroder refused to hand over to state budgeters a portion of unclaimed property funds held by the state in escrow. Traditionally, the Legislature with gubernatorial assent had grabbed a portion of these funds sitting idly, which the state doesn’t own, in order to pay for current operations.
R.S. 9:162 and R.S. 9:165 spells out the treatment of this money. The former clearly abrogates any state claim to the funds involved, with exceptions granted in the latter: diversion of a portion to fund Interstate 49 construction debt and up to seven percent of annual gross collections in administrative fees. The remainder, the latter states, the treasurer “shall promptly deposit in the Bond Security and Redemption Fund of this state all funds received” this way, except that the treasurer “shall retain in a separate trust fund at least five hundred thousand dollars from which the administrator shall pay claims duly allowed.”
Strong Second Amendment rights. Noticeable from the start, a pattern has emerged where states with restrictive guns laws, and particularly cities with these, are more likely to have protests turn to violence. The simple logic here (which too often even is beyond the brainpower of gun control advocates) is that the greater the ability to arm oneself to protect self, family, and property, the less chance someone will threaten those objects with violence. Louisiana has some of the best Second Amendment protections in the country and ones that local governments can’t override. Protesters know this and thereby don’t know that nobody’s health, home, or business they threaten with violence will be met with a defense of people and property by force of arms.
Policy-maker sympathy with radical policy goals of protesters/rioters. While some have spoken in ways that egg on mischief makers, with the exception of Democrat New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (and perhaps not coincidentally New Orleans has seen the only instances of violence), politicians in Louisiana have restrained from publicly signing on to police defunding, belief in institutionalized police racist activity, and removing law enforcement from areas where rioting could occur, among others. Those places have seen violence, sometimes extensive, break out.
This week, a finance website highlighted comments Brees made about kneeling during the playing of the national anthem as a form of protest. He spoke consistently about that act he had criticized four years ago when a handful of National Football League players hopped on that trend, saying at the time
… there's plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn't involve being disrespectful to the American flag.
The great thing about this country is that we have the freedoms that allow you to speak out openly about any issue. So, I’m not commenting on the issue itself because any person has the right to speak out on any issue they want. That’s the great thing about being an American. But the American flag is what represents those freedoms. It represents the very freedom that [gives such protesters] the opportunity to exercise by speaking out his opinion in a peaceful manner about that issue ….
The fate of SB 418 by Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot will answer both questions. The bill reforms the tort system in regards to vehicle insurance, making Louisiana look much more like other states with far lower insurance rates.
Described by Republican legislators as a leading issue of the session in light of the economically depressive impact of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Edwards has threatened to veto the measure, and even after its passage in a watered-down form wouldn’t commit to desisting on that account. It passed the Senate, first in its original form then as part of a conference committee compromise, with more than enough votes to override any veto, but in the House while the version that went to conference passed with two more than the 70 votes required, the compromise version garnered only 66.
After enduring a regular session interrupted for about a month-and-a-half because of gubernatorial restrictions due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature launched itself into a special session potentially a month long. It’s only the second time it has done so, and the first time it hasn’t restricted itself to a narrow agenda.
Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards did take issue with the generality of the call, implying that it tried to do too much, although his claim rings a bit hollow. Of the 41 items, 14 deal with budgeting matters, some of which the chambers resolved in the regular session but left most hanging because of the shortened nature of the session. Another nine address the impact of Edwards’ actions because of the pandemic. A dozen concern tax matters, which in this even-numbered year the body couldn’t address during the regular session. Outside of these areas that timing has prevented to date their resolutions, just a handful of issues remain, and one named – tort reform – the Legislature successfully completed in the regular session.
SB 418 by Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot passed both chambers three votes higher than a supermajority. The bill would reform extensively tort law dealing with vehicular accidents in a way that, if the history of similar laws in other states provides any guide, will reduce both insurance rates and the size of court-ordered judgments, which garnered opposition from the trial lawyer lobby.
Those opponents include Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, on whose behalf a political action committee devoted to opposing tort reform in all of its forms spent $13.5 million that resulted in his narrow reelection. Edwards is using every last bit of his leverage to dilute the bill in any way possible, by promising not to veto the measure even as he doesn’t stand much of a chance in having such a veto stick, in order to save face. An overridden veto will reduce his governorship going forward to a cipher and even the smallest change that he could cajole from a conference committee picked by legislative Republican leaders would allow him with a straight face to refuse conceding defeat and to sign the bill.
Today, the House of Representatives passed HB 418 by Republican Sen. Kirk Talbot. The bill makes major changes to the state’s tort system as it pertains to vehicle insurance, containing features in the legal codes of many other states that have far lower personal vehicle rates.
Edwards, who before making it to the Governor’s Mansion worked as a trial lawyer, doesn’t want to see this threat to the wealth and livelihoods of his professional colleagues, not only out of comradeship, but because he owes his political life to them. Heavily backed by trial lawyers – who along with other beneficiaries to the current system gave to the special interest group Gumbo PAC $13.5 million from 2018-19 it spent on behalf of Edwards’ narrow reelection – he is considered by the special interests currently fleecing ratepayers as their guarantor that they can continue living the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed through vetoing bills like Talbot’s.
That’s the most logical conclusion that can be drawn from the Louisiana Legislature’s passage of HB 819 by Republican state Rep. Larry Bagley, which awaits concurrence and gubernatorial assent to become law. Because nothing else can explain why something almost useless in addressing medical maladies suddenly becomes considered a wonder drug whose manufacture the state happens to control.
In the past couple years since the Legislature created a viable production and distribution system (subject to, naturally, the usual politicking) its legal use has expanded rapidly from just a handful of state-vetted “recommending” physicians (because the federal government bans its use in any form with one narrow exception, so doctors in Louisiana cannot prescribe it) for a small number of maladies to now on the brink of anything goes. Bagley’s bill basically allows any physician to recommend it for any reason.
This week, the City Council engaged in the first reading of an ordinance that would build on existing state law and corresponding city ordinance regarding smoking in public places. It would extend a ban on indoor smoking at bars and include vaping as a form of smoking, but would exempt cigar and hookah bars.
Appropriately, the more conservative members of the Council brought this forward. In justifying smoking in public, supporters often allege conservative principles back that preference, but that contention relies on misappropriating the foundations of liberalism.
This describes state policy-maker response to using federal CARES Act dollars in supplementing the fiscal year 2020 budget and the upcoming FY 2021 budget. The Legislature appears poised to approve within the week legislation affecting the former and to do the same with the latter in a special session in June.
The state has received $1.802 billion designed to offset costs at the state and local level for expenses related to combatting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic over the last four months of FY 2020 and first six months of FY 2021. At the same time the associated economic shutdown, prompted by a series of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards proclamations as part of the response, prompted the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference to forecast of a loss of just over $1 billion in general fund revenue in this span.
Ever since the end of the 19th century through the next half-century when changing market conditions diluted the partisan press into a more balanced kind of political coverage, the pendulum has inched its way from the center – but not in an increasing amplitude in arc, rather fixed ever more firmly on the left. It largely has continued (if now eroding) norms developed over a century ago – striving for accuracy and objectivity in reporting – but increasingly allows bias through other means.
These days, that takes the form of selective use of information and selective coverage. Bias enters the equation when reporters express incuriosity in comprehensively covering a story because what they see on the surface confirms their deep-seated political biases, and when editors make selections on what they deem worth covering or qualifies as news that mirror their political prejudices.
Wednesday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education installed Jefferson Parish school Superintendent Cade Brumley as the state’s top education official, with the bare minimum of eight votes. This means Brumley will helm the Department of Education through 2023, subject to favorable annual evaluations by BESE.
In some fashion his rise to the post echoes his predecessor John White. Both were young at their commencement, had not spent a lot of time in the classroom, but had plenty of administrative experience.
There are a couple of key differences, which in large part defined the politics of Brumley’s selection. His administrative experience, with the exception of the last two years in Jefferson, was relatively parochial, starting as a principal, then becoming superintendent in DeSoto Parish. Prior to his taking the job in 2012, White had spent years in high-profile administrative roles, first in New York, then as head of Louisiana’s Recovery School District – as well as a stint outside of government as the head of Teach for America affiliates, the organization which prepared him for classroom teaching. To put it another way, White never had run a school or answered to a school board of elected officials, while Brumley until he became Jefferson’s leader (when he added charter schools to his portfolio and had a significant nonpublic school presence) had little experience with anything but traditional ways in education.
Also, Brumley’s career followed the most traditional of traditional paths – a bachelors education degree, teaching in a traditional school, principal of one, advanced education degrees, then onto his superintendent jobs. Unlike White, he never became a policy entrepreneur with visionary ideas of where to lead Louisiana education, but took a pragmatic tinkering view of policy implementation to get results within the larger framework that White and BESE provided.
That’s why Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his three BESE appointees so enthusiastically backed Brumley. They knew, with a solid majority of reformers on BESE, that nobody could win appointment who lobbied to turn back the clock on a successful series of reforms White, with legislative and BESE cooperation, had launched, changes which began with increased accountability of all of students, teachers, schools, and districts and then moved to more rigor, effort expended, and subject area expertise conveyed in instruction.
But at least they could get somebody in there who would lift the foot from the gas pedal, figuring Brumley with his very traditional background would. The person they didn’t want ascending to the job was Assistant Superintendent Jessica Baghian, whose background and links to education reform plus longtime association with White within the department they oversimply saw as cloning White on policy.
And Brumley has shown he’ll carry water for the education establishment troika of school boards, district superintendents, and unions. In his last year in DeSoto, he served as head of the lobbying arm for district chiefs, which reflexively opposed White, and carried their criticisms to him.
These interests convinced enough of the reform majority to back Brumley, and thus breaks the string of unambiguous reformers (excluding interim holders) on the job stretching back to Paul Pastorek’s term starting in 2007. No doubt this thrills Edwards, his education policy fellow travelers among elected Democrats, and the troika.
At the same time, Brumley didn’t get this far without having political skills, and so he must know this: nearly on a daily basis, Edwards’ influence fades a bit more, well before the end of his term (the latest sign: Edwards trying to bargain to reduce even a little extensive tort reform he appears unable to stop). Large Republican majorities in the legislature, who see no reason to change existing education policy, remain entrenched. Reform sentiments still have sway over the BESE majority – and when voters almost certainly elect a Republican governor in 2023 with the same, the existing three anti-reform appointees will flip to pro-reform replacements ready to offer a new four-year contract to a superintendent that fits their views.
Brumley could buck these dynamics and try to take the state backwards on education, which one might do if the next career step envisioned takes you to a larger state where anti-reform elements rule over such policy, with no certainty that ever could happen with the inertia he would face that would lead to much conflict and little in the way of results to impress outsiders. Much more likely, in order to leave any kind of imprint and make his career prospects brighter whether he seeks another four years in Louisiana, he’ll realize he needs to go with the flow.
Revanchist education forces in Louisiana may celebrate because the Brumley appointment means no more bold reform initiatives coming from that office. Yet neither should they expect any real backtracking from those initiatives already in place.
Prior to the crisis, the state found itself in good shape on this account. States collect from employers (adjusted for experience) and employees (twice that for the self-employed) a tax that goes into a fund held by the federal government on their behalves, from which they can draw upon if current benefits payouts exceed tax intake. Louisiana collects and pays out in ranges and on average among the lowest amounts among the states, but had collected a nice cushion in its fund because of a number of policies – such as having no Short-Time Compensation program, typical earnings base and duration of benefits receipt, and (until Edwards waived it in late March) a waiting week for receive benefits – prevented aggressive distribution of benefits.
That thrift the federal and state pandemic responses now will put to the test, creating a two-fold budgetary problem. One is that unemployment insurance policy hastily created in the aftermath of the virus’ descendance onto society has the counterproductive impact of creating more unemployment and less economic activity, causing state government costs to rise and revenues to fall.
Last week, DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City announced it would close its doors for good. The state’s longest-existing licensed riverboat casino gave up the ghost just shy of its 26th birthday, citing the pandemic as the coup de grace.
It had been on the critical list for some time. Over the years it had drifted to the bottom of the state’s revenue tables, in the most recent full month of operation (February) having the third-lowest total revenue behind two smaller boats and the lowest revenue per admission – although, interestingly it and Margaritaville were the only two of the six in the Shreveport-Bossier market to post year-over-year revenue gains.
The House Appropriations Committee dealt with HB 2, the capital outlay bill, dealt with $2.3 billion in cash the state had set aside for projects, as well as authorizing $3 billion in sales of general obligation bonds. But the real significance of its actions came over the use of $348 million in past surplus money eligible for spending on these kinds of projects.
This money came available from the fiscal year 2019 budget surplus, after shunting constitutionally-mandated portions to the Budget Stabilization Fund and to paying down unfunded accrued liabilities in state pensions plans. Besides these items and capital outlay, such funds also can go towards paying down state debt.
That’s saying a lot. Until the late 1980s, policy-makers routinely would adjust revenue forecasts however they saw fit to justify spending levels they wanted to achieve. While the advent of the Revenue Estimating Conference sidelined that tactic, others remained, with the most flagrant example being the Louisiana Recovery District that circumvented constitutional prohibitions of issuing debt to pay for continuing operations, budgeting over multiple years, and increasing taxes without supermajority approval in the Legislature.
At least these tactics passed legal muster, before constitutional changes voided them. Saturday, Edwards released plans designed to prevent busting the fiscal year 2020 budget and a proposed FY 2021 budget in the face of revenues dropping over $1 billion as a result of the economic slowdown caused by the virus spread and proclamations by Edwards stalling a significant portion of the state’s economy. Both plans must be regarded as dubious.
So far, 2020 has seen the first steps towards reversing nearly a century of acquiescence to oversized government. There have been others: a brief flare snuffed out quickly when Democrat-then-Republican former Gov. Buddy Roemer first came into office, then several years later under GOP former Gov. Mike Foster reversal occurred on a few specific issues such as education, and only a few years ago Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal mounted the most serious effort on a broad front, but one left incomplete.
But this time differs in that conservatives now hold every minor statewide office and command majorities in the Legislature, Public Service Commission, and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The last redoubt of the old order is the Governor’s Mansion, and it has seen its power wane to the point that it has lost control of the policy-making agenda that reduces it to revanchist defensive displays.
Almost every state imposed some kinds of economic restrictions since the middle of March, and even those without these or those that had issued relatively relaxed and/or short-lived strictures have been affected by larger trends, such as the dramatic slowdown in air traffic, falling capital markets, and fear of virus transmission in the public. Combined, such dynamics have sapped revenue-producing mechanisms for states, costing them an as-yet untold amount in the aggregate.
This has led to a debate over whether the federal government, which already has apportioned $2 trillion to fight effects of the virus, should have its taxpayers pony up more to bail out state and local governments. And Louisiana’s two Republican senators have taken a leading role in this, to the consternation of many conservatives.
Monday, Edwards announced he would lift a number of restrictions encapsulated in several proclamations made by him over the past two months that brought large swaths of Louisiana’s economy to a halt. He outlined the contents of a proclamation he said he would issue later in the week, which would apply statewide at week’s end.
This came despite a pattern of data that largely replicated that of two weeks ago, when Edwards declared that because some regions in the state allegedly were not showing improved metrics the whole state had to continue to suffer under the bans. The conclusions drawn from that data as well were suspect, given that areas of the state under concern showed in terms of cases improvement and those deemed not troublesome actually showed increased incidence of cases.
The Revenue Estimating Conference recognized a $123.1 million reduction in general fund revenues, which may be spent on a variety of things, from the last forecast of 13 months ago for this fiscal year and $867.5 million for next year. Another $239.5 million fewer is projected for dedicated funds, which go to specific purposes, for this year and $165.1 million fewer for the upcoming year.
A couple of weeks ago, I pegged the fiscal year 2020 downdraft at around $550 million, but Republican Pres. Donald Trump and a Republican-led Congress salvaged matters. Their 2017 legislation that cut federal income taxes meant Louisianans deducted lower federal tax payments against their state income taxes, resulting in higher collections than forecast even into 2019 of over $200 million. As well, the increased number unemployment insurance payments, which are taxable, with as much as 15 percent of the workforce drawing these and supercharged by the across-the-board federal $600 monthly bonus through July also will boost these collections.
Maybe a missed red flag was that Bernard, who spent most of his working life in government, won election as Natchitoches Parish clerk of court six times, up through 2011 as a Democrat. Or that as clerk of court he rubbed elbows with a lot of personal injury lawyers. Or that trial lawyer and Democrat former state Rep. Taylor Townsend, one of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ top campaign finance bundlers, gave to the limit to Bernard’s Senate campaign, as did Townsend’s uncle party powerbroker Democrat former state Sen. Don Kelly, and also their law firm as well.
The payoff began last week when Bernard cast in committee the only GOP vote for Edwards-backed insurance regulation, positioned as faux tort reform, that actually would raise the cost of Louisiana’s already ruinously-high vehicle premiums. The next day, he proved his anti-reform vote was no fluke.
This week, the Senate Insurance Committee torpedoed a trio of faux tort reform bills backed by the governor, who practiced as a trial lawyer prior to election to the state’s highest office. In his campaigns , he has enjoyed massive direct and indirect support of personal injury lawyers, who use the nation’s most consumer-unfriendly laws to transfer wealth from ratepayers to themselves by foisting the second-highest average vehicle insurance rates onto drivers to fund the more and larger awards the current set of laws allows.
Louisiana Republicans have for years attempted to ameliorate this situation, and with a nearly veto-proof majority in the Legislature they have a real prospect of carrying it off this regular session. To play defense, Edwards adopted a set of bills forwarded by Democrat state Sen. Jay Luneau, a trial lawyer, as a counterweight, to posture as tort reform in competition with a slew of GOP-backed bills that address genuinely the issue.
HB 464 and HB 469 by Republican state Rep. Beau Beaullieu would amend the Constitution and amend statute to alter the formula to compute changes in the expenditure limit and set a cap at five percent increase annually, both overridden only by two-thirds votes of the legislative chambers when in session. The statute also would set the limit annually at the lower of appropriations or the previous limit with the factor applied to both. Long overdue in concept, the details need adjustment or too many opportunities exist to make the cap much less effective.
The House Appropriations Committee started that process by removing language that would allow changes in the formula and cap outside of a specific legislative instrument, leaving less room to manipulate the amount between sessions for political reasons. But further tweaking needs doing to improve the bills even more as these advance to the full House and beyond.
It’s a classic from liberalism’s playbook: create a problem through its policy failures, then propose a harmful, drastic solution to address that. Whether consciously, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has come full circle in this way with his recent closing of the barn door two months after the horse escaped.
In this instance, the barn door was pursuing a timely test and trace strategy that would have kept blockaded a more pernicious spread of the Wuhan coronavirus – the horse. Edwards now predicates lifting or not extending further restrictions he began putting into place in the middle of March on the state’s ability to accomplish this. Despite no real evidence that certain regions of the state had experienced increased numbers of or rates of infections, last week Edwards used that excuse and what he regarded as insufficient testing capacity to continue restrictions indiscriminately across Louisiana through the middle of May.
Recently, he has said testing and tracing capacity should ramp up to make for greater ability in identifying individuals in contact with those infected and administering tests to them as well. But his newfound enthusiasm for this course seemed absent in late February, even though he had warnings and models to follow.
Louisiana Democrats, particularly Gov. John Bel Edwards, want to circumscribe the state Legislature in whatever way possible, because they barely muster a third of its membership. The longer they can jawbone their way into impeding the Legislature, the fewer policy defeats they will suffer.
The resistance has manifested in various forms. First, attendance for the chambers when they met, which seldom has more than a few members missing, were down considerably with just 78 of 105 in the House and the Senate had 23 of 39 (a few more would filter in, disproportionately in the Senate, as their legislative days progressed and had their names added as present). About half of Democrats played hooky as a form of protest to getting the people’s business done because they fear they won’t like the policy outputs, even as they present weak arguments to obscure that.
It’s over immediately for Edwards as a significant agent in Louisiana’s policy-making process if a petition to attenuate, if not overturn, his emergency proclamations regarding the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic succeeds in the next couple of days. Despite scant evidence to support his claims, last week Edwards alleged he needed to continue the series of restrictions (absent very minor modifications) imposed over the past 45 days on gatherings and business activities in the state, and issued the appropriate proclamation. This irked mainly Republican legislators, who wish to utilize state law to reverse some, if not all, of those restrictions through a majority in at least one legislative chamber.
If they pull it off, it’s open season on Edwards’ agenda from there on out. Proven impotent by majorities who demonstrated willingness to use their power, he will lose much of the informal authority derived from the office’s formal powers. For example, with this proven ability to defy what’s to stop the logrolling that produces line-item capital expenditures in budgeting from gathering majorities to hold quick veto override sessions where two-thirds votes wipe out gubernatorial line-item vetoes? Chamber GOP leaderships will tell Democrats that if they want line items in budgets, they’ll have to join in the overrides, and they’ll know they can’t depend upon Edwards to bail them out.
Earlier this week, Edwards said just about all of the current restrictions countering the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic he had proclaimed into place would apply statewide through May 15. A number of Republican legislators questioned this approach, noting that infection rates varied considerably across the state and so a regional strategy that would focus on local governments imposing restrictions would serve the twin goals of leaving the vulnerable parts of the population less so going forward by the swifter acquisition of herd immunity among the healthy subset and in reviving livelihoods. As justification, he said that three of the state’s nine health care regions showed an increase in virus incidence and one held steady. Additionally, several parishes had some of the nation’s highest infection rates among counties.
That explanation never made sense. Imposing statewide restrictions on less-affected areas beyond what local authorities would deem prudent in no significant way would do any better in controlling the virus anywhere, and following Edwards’ tactic to its logical conclusion means no state should loosen restrictions (or the several that don’t have any at the statewide level should impose these immediately) until the absolutely worst case (at this time, New York) feels that it can. (And even New York will take a regional approach.)
Every state will take a noticeable hit from the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and the significant economic slowdown it has triggered for more than a month, with more to come. However, Louisiana remains more vulnerable than just about any, with its oversized energy and tourism sectors, underperforming economy, and inefficient fiscal structure. Two different assessments place the state as the sixth-most and the most vulnerable economically to the crisis.
The math is painful, both for this concluding fiscal year and the next. One analyst sees the state encountering a 40 percent shortfall from its current budget, which in state-supported dollars means in the neighborhood of an $8.3 billion haircut. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations don’t support such an extreme view, but produce sobering numbers nonetheless.
Having botched the initial response to the coming of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it should have been expected that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards wouldn’t do much better when it came to start handling the back end. Yesterday, Edwards announced the status quo on gubernatorial-ordered restrictions until May 15, with the small exception that elective medical procedures could commence that are time sensitive and that some interactions may increase, such as with outdoor dining and curbside delivery.
Edwards argued that Louisiana’s high per capita infection rate mandated the feet-dragging, which is ironic because Edwards policy decisions in no small measure needlessly aggravated the crisis. By not preparing adequately for a clearly coming threat and then issuing draconian directives indiscriminately applied, he permitted increased chances at infection, decreased opportunity for herd immunity to be acquired in low-risk populations, and now is delaying the ability of the public to get back on its feet economically.