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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.

If he does, he becomes known as the guy who resisted funding critical programs for the disabled and assisting college students. Do that, and he eliminates his chances for reelection next year.

Accept the budget, and he becomes captive to whatever the majority Republican Legislature offers as revenue-raising measures in the special session, which casts a broad net encompassing all of income tax bracket adjustments, income tax deductions, general sales tax increases, tax credit alterations, and eliminating all of part of other exceptions. Significantly, it doesn’t specify whether these must be temporary or permanent.

Edwards’ best strategy would try to enable a budgetary coup, as he did last year when he enticed enough Republicans to defect in resisting the trimming of this year’s spending plan. Because a governor has 20 days in which to sign, veto, or make line item vetoes to an appropriations bill, he doesn’t have to act upon it until after the special session expires Jun. 4.

In the interim, he could have House allies concoct an alternative version and, if picking up enough defectors, get it through both chambers. Then, he could reject the other version and present that one as a necessity demanding revenues, making his preferred revenue-enhancement mechanisms viable. But this is a longshot.

Otherwise, Republicans forward their revenue-raising options, likely to focus on temporary renewal of a quarter- to half-cent of the expiring sales one cent of sales tax plus wiping out some sales tax partial exemptions, which they may wish to make permanent. In other words, what they present will allow for little or no permanent growth of government.

And Edwards must swallow whatever they offer and must lobby legislative Democrats to do the same (extensions must achieve two-thirds majorities). Should the special session not produce new revenues, then he becomes the guy who must implement cuts of nearly a quarter across all of the executive branch save essentially health care and elementary and secondary education (of state general fund dollars; the blow to some areas would be relatively small given the large share of their expenditures accounted for by some or all of federal funds, self-generated revenues, or statutory dedications).

So, Edwards must take what they give him, and doing so finishes his plans to take Louisiana back to its free-spending populist days. Next year, no one in the Legislature, facing fall elections, will want to expand dramatically government with tax hikes, but his constant harping to do precisely that plus inability to keep the state lurching from one fiscal crisis to another as he promised in his campaign likely means the electorate will deny him another four years after that.

Edwards has pitched a long battle to reverse progress in the state, and legislative Republicans had to fight hard to prevent that. They now have victory in their sights and following through will produce a hard-fought win for the people as well.

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