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Edwards inaction surely would scuttle reelection

Louisiana’s House of Representatives Republicans seem to have gotten it together, to the point that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards may allow sabotage of the entire special session devoted to revenue issues.

Entering this potential two-week convocation, called as temporary taxes rolling off at the fiscal year’s conclusion would leave a deficit of nearly $1 billion at current spending trends, the GOP knew that Edwards would attempt to use this as an opportunity to increase taxes permanently. With his unwillingness to deviate from this conflation of tax reform and hikes, and with reform parameters ill-defined and incompletely confected into his call that triggered the convening, legislators could do nothing lasting and would have to leave genuine reform for the future.

Last week, at first some Republicans didn’t get it. State Rep. Stephen Dwight offered up his HB 23 that would have enacted a permanent tax increase of a half cent of sales tax. This would admit that government needed permanent expansion, ratifying state-sourced spending that rose at twice the rate of inflation during the first two years of Edwards’ term. Democrats sought to pile on with a pair of bills raising telephone taxes advancing out of committee.

But better sense prevailed. Dwight had his bill amended in committee to impose the hike for only a quarter cent and for just three additional years. This mimicked the 2016 approach that produced the one cent of sales tax due to disappear, creation of a bridge buying time for rational, comprehensive reform.

Yet that opportunity for change did not happen due to Edwards’ insistence primarily that “reform” equate to permanent tax hikes, locking in expanded government, and secondarily that any such increase fall very disproportionately on Louisianans above lower class. He hasn’t changed his mind, so the 36-month partial extension conveniently stretches past the end of his term, where he faces uncertain at best prospects for reelection, with his absence removing his obstructionism.

However, neither have diehard liberals among legislative Democrats had a change of heart. Perhaps the most influential of the bunch, Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee Chairman J.P. Morrell, called HB 23 or any approach that relied on temporary sales taxes a nonstarter in his mind. Apparently agreeing was the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. who earlier this week made it known to the House Republican leadership that it would block such legislation. For any tax measure to pass, it must gain a two-thirds vote in each chamber, giving the LLBC an effective veto power.

Then again, conservative House Republicans can do the same. And, the way things stand, if a standoff results in inadequate revenue legislation making into law, Democrats and especially Edwards have much more to lose than do GOP legislators.

If large cuts must come to state government because of no resolution, Democrats will bear the blame in the eyes of most voters. The electorate tends to personify state actions in the governor’s form, even if the Legislature passes the final product for his signature. Edwards can try to spin a story about how a Republican-controlled legislature could not pass out a revenue-raising bill he claims needed to prevent cuts that he would make, but most voters won’t pay attention to that.

And of those who do, the GOP has an easy rebuttal: it offered up legislation to provide the funds, but Democrats scuttled it, with Edwards unwilling or unable to prevent that. Only dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and/or liberals in the attentive public would discount the Republicans’ explanation. With the current positioning of things, under this scenario electoral advantage goes to the GOP and against Edwards’ reelection chances.

So, the moment of truth rapidly approaches for Edwards. Unless he can detach enough Republicans – and some in-name-only like state Rep. Rob Shadoin would defect if they sense it politically feasible – to ram through permanent tax increases, if he fails to rein in leftist legislators that almost certainly will cost him a second term.

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