Search This Blog


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.

The call itself limits policy latitude considerably compared to the two earlier 2018 versions. This results in part from small successes last time: some minor increases in income taxes and more wealth redistribution through an increase in the wasteful Earned Income Tax Credit. Still, significantly, it contains no authorization to legislate on income taxes and only permits that on the same menu of sales taxes as previously.

Thus, the preferences Edwards expressed as written into the first two calls, that tax increases occur on income and primarily on corporations, he no longer will enforce. He has accepted that only the sales tax would rise, permanently he hopes but the run of play suggests temporarily – even as the durations tucked into the sales tax increase bills unable to win final passage from the previous session, six years, mimic perpetuity.

Also, Edwards surrendered on the budget, signing the version passed in the last special session. It hardly differs from the near-facsimile he vetoed almost three weeks ago from the regular session. The only major difference comes in Section 19.A, which argues for proportional restoration of contingent funding upon adoption of any revenue-raising measures.

In other words, by doing this, Edwards recognized he couldn’t leave himself open to having no spending authority at all and taking the blame for that if Jul. 1 came and state services began shutting down. Further, it signals that he surrenders on letting the GOP House leadership call the tune – sales taxes only and temporary – because he now realizes he may get nothing at all if enough anti-tax Republicans in that chamber stay the course and prevent any increase. The leadership at least will campaign for something, even if not up to his level, although he may harbor hopes of a one-off coup on the issue to muscle through his preferred half-cent hike.

Still, by his own words anything less than this he considers catastrophic, and whatever “cuts” come he will personify these in the eyes of voters, so he will suffer politically unless he goes  whole hog. Neither would he gain credit for shrinking government, precisely because he has disowned that. Having to swallow anything but the half-cent causes him a major defeat.

With the narrowing of the call and his cornering into signing the budget, Republicans have gained the initiative going into this session. Compounding this, Edwards has lost line-item veto leverage over legislators, as the second session didn’t address capital outlay, leaving him that bill passed in the regular session on which the clock ran out and he had to act. Of course, he used the power to punish certain recalcitrant lawmakers, but this did and dusted that tool in his arsenal. He can’t use that threat now in the upcoming session to sway votes in his favor.

The House GOP should press its advantage here and go absolutely no farther than it did with HB 27 in the second session – even as a strong case exists to roll back even further. It continues to hold the cards and won’t win the hand unless its self-inflicts defeat.

No comments: