Opening Day: A Tough Balancing Act
The Louisiana Legislature starts its 2015 session today amid a historic budget crisis that was years in the making. Louisiana’s constitution requires a balanced budget, yet the projected gap next year between tax revenues and expenses stands at $1.6 billion. Unless this deficit is plugged in a thoughtful manner that includes new revenues, the result could be deep cuts to critical state investments in education, health care, infrastructure and public safety.
A new report explains the major issues LBP will be tracking this session. Meanwhile, The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges notes that there are far more proposals to raise revenues than the Legislature typically sees in an election year.
Some measures would increase taxes on smokers and drivers, while others would end or trim tax breaks that allow many of the state’s biggest companies to pay little or no corporate income taxes, or even get rebates from taxpayers. “I’ve never seen so many bills that generate revenue versus bills that take it away,” said Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s chief economist. “The norm is the opposite.” Albrecht estimated that up to 95 percent of this year’s tax bills would make individuals and companies pay more.
But as Bridges reports in a revealing Sunday profile of Senate President John Alario, the flurry of revenue proposals has done little to alter the basic mindset that has ruled the Capitol during the Bobby Jindal era:
In a March 12 meeting in his office with House and Senate leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, Alario allowed everyone to offer their views first and then told them that they must not challenge the anti-tax pledge. “It will be much easier to get things done if we stay within the swim lanes,” Alario said in a telephone interview.
Translation: The two most important figures in any budget debate – Alario and Jindal – are determined to keep doing the same things that drove Louisiana into this financial ditch while expecting different results.
It’s the Legislature’s job to fix the budget
While the governor and Senate President are the key figures in the budget debate, there are 143 other elected legislators with a vote on the budget. And the Nola.com editorial board thinks its high time they look beyond the patchwork approach that has been the norm in recent years and search for long-term solutions.
“The way we structured our tax collections is a big part of the problem,” Sen. [Robert] Adley said. No one can argue with that. The question is: Will legislators do anything about it? Will they come up with smart, long-term solutions that will make Louisiana more fiscally stable? As dire as the budget situation is this year, it would seem that they would have to make lasting fiscal changes. Some people are doubtful, though. It is an election year for legislators. Gov. Jindal has largely checked out, but he won’t want anything to pass that could besmirch his uber-conservative credentials. Even so, Sen. Adley believes it could happen. “It is going to be a session where the legislators are going to show some independence,” he said. Let’s hope he’s right — and that lawmakers make wise decisions for the good of the state.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused to release a single work-related email from his time in office, rejecting attempts by several news organizations to obtain the emails via the state’s open records law.
The Advocate filed its request seeking release of Jindal’s emails on March 18. His administration asked for several days to look into the response and issued its denial on Friday. Shortly after Jindal was elected on a platform pushing transparency and open government, he backed an overhaul of Louisiana’s public records law that redefined the Governor’s Office exemptions, shielding communication that would be considered part of the “deliberative process.” Robert Travis Scott, the executive director of the Public Affairs Council of Louisiana, said his group, which advocates for transparency in government, believes the exemption is too broadly applied. “The law is really not completely out of line to put it in there. What is out of line is how it’s been interpreted,” Scott said. Legislation has been proposed for the session that begins Monday that would remove the Governor’s Office protections.
Business groups want to defang teachers unions
If business groups have their way at the Legislature this spring, teachers unions would no longer be able to collect membership dues through automatic payroll deductions. As The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports, a similar effort died in a House committee last year on a deadlocked, party-line vote. But this year Republicans enjoy a numerical advantage on the House Labor Committee.
Opponents contend the move is aimed at squashing the voice of rank-and-file workers and elevating the clout of big corporations. “It is a way of getting unions out of the way of these large corporations and state political or legislative agendas that are not education or education-friendly,” LAE president Debbie Meaux said.
Number of the Day
515,785 – Number of Louisiana tax filers receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2012 (Source: LBP via Brookings Institution)