(Photo: Rep. Jay Morris)
As the clock ticked closer to 6:00 pm, mandatory session-closing, twitter followers were voicing their outrage as they watched the session online begin to shut down—with a budget. At issue were schools closing, healthcare institutions shuttered and a general meltdown of so-called functioning government. It appeared that late in the afternoon, the House and Senate were not going to make a deal and that Louisiana would be mired even more so, in a world of budgetary chaos.
Suddenly, and with a less than forty-five minutes to spare from the close of the 25-day marathon session, reporters in the legislative house halls started to notice the signs of legislative life. They began to tweet that there were noticing some vital signs, but, maybe not. The twitter grandstand, whose members were astonished over what they were witnessing had been screaming to “throw the bums out. Suddenly, their own tweets of outrage turned to shock, to hope, to frenzy. Who knows? Just maybe, the collective legislative quarterbacks, weary and worried, had enough in them for a last-minute Hail Mary in the legislative halls. The reporters and twitter followers could not believe their eyes. Could a polarized-Washington DC-type government of do-nothings, shockingly emerge as a Louisiana-style hayride of just getting-by from the seats of their pants?
Yes, believe it or not, a deal wheels were churning. The only question, was, had time run out before it could all get done, thus, a budget, made-in-Louisiana?
Yes, and no.
Indeed, the House of Representatives and the Louisiana Senate somehow fashioned a compromise in those desperate moments of the special session. That compromise substantially-reduced the budget gap and allowed the exhausted lawmakers to save some face. However, the clock was not totally friendly. Moments after the session ended, Governor Edwards announced that at least $30 million was left off of the sausage table, if not more. As days passed, the deficit for the remainder of the fiscal year stands roughly at $70 million from a $900 million pre-session shortfall. Also, the budget shortage for next year dropped from $2 billion to roughly $800 million.
Still, while the session ended in a dramatic cease-fire on that late-winter day, the wheels of the legislative cart almost came off at last moments. Behind the scenes, earlier that morning, two legislative leaders Senate President John Alario (R) and House Speaker Taylor Barras (R) had met with business lobbyists to cobble a compromise on taxes and exemptions. However, nobody informed a man needing to be told. Only in the afternoon did the secret compromise get noticed. Only during the waning hours of the special session, House of Representative Jay Morris realized that some crucial legislation, had been changed—actually, his own.
On Thursday of last week, The Advocate reporter, Tyler Bridges, revealed details of that secret meeting that almost resulted into a legislative disaster. On Friday evening, Bridges and I discussed the events in a video interview.
If there is a lesson to be learned from those last-day developments at the state capitol, it is—a single legislator can sometimes shutdown an entire process after learning that the capitol furniture suddenly had changed.