In this edition of "Bernie Burns", below are questions and his responses to the issue of taxes and who might suffer the consequences as well as the winners and not-so-much winners of the "hopefully" final legislative of the year.
Tomorrow we will present Part 2, which focuses upon the US Senate Race.
Your last poll pretty much described the mood of the Louisiana voters, this summer. They did not want to raise taxes despite the deficit. However, the legislature did raise almost half the amount that the governor wanted to generate. Did those legislators not understand the will of the electorate?
Republican legislators were very aware of the sentiment back home against raising new taxes to avoid cuts to higher education and health care. They voted for a lot less than Governor Edwards kept demanding. Which is why we had another special session and again a lot less was raised versus what Governor Edwards was asking. Louisiana now has the highest sales tax in the US - which means you will see countless negative mailers and television ads in 2019 accusing legislators of raising billions in new taxes. Even I was surprised by the negative political mailers recently hitting mail boxes in freshman republican districts three years away from legislative elections. You are correct – lots of republicans voted against the wishes of voters back home and some will not get reelected in 2019. According to survey data in SMOR recent polls – a sales tax increase was somewhat acceptable with republican and independent voters. Republicans believe everyone pays sales tax – not just republicans as is the case with income taxes. Republicans legislators in house of representatives actually voted with the majority sentiment back home and did not vote for increasing income taxes.
Who do you think were the big winners and losers, this special session? The entire legislative session?
Taylor Barras was absolutely a big winner – he put together a solid coalition of republicans and killed every bill supported by Governor Edwards and Teacher Unions. Same for so called Equal Pay and Minimum Wage legislation. Taylor Barras became speaker under last minute strange political circumstances. He has had to deal with constant rumors of his eminent demise as speaker. However, the last few days of special tax session was dominated by Speaker Barras, Lance Harris and republican floor leaders as they killed every effort by Governor Edwards to raise income taxes. Ten republican freshman emerged as solid votes for the speaker and were very active in killing the income tax. They have formed their own group – wonder what they end calling themselves? For or against the big income tax vote in the house, hard not to be impressed how organized and disciplined republicans were on that particular vote. Taylor Barras showed he has the political and organizational skills to win important political battles.
LSU and Louisiana Tech were big winners. Voters this fall will vote on a constitutional amendment allowing universities to increase tuition without legislative approval. Both LSU and Louisiana Tech have good graduation rates. Subsidizing poorly performing universities is normal and unfortunately acceptable fiscal policy in Louisiana. Locked into Louisiana’s bad higher education system has always been a drag on LSU and Tech’s financial health. Universities with high graduation rates are never rewarded in Louisiana. Universities with graduation rates in the teens would be closed in most states except Louisiana. College educated voters in Louisiana are the least likely group of voters to support paying more taxes for higher education.
Newspapers were losers. Columnist and editorial writers began the drum beat for more taxes to close the budget deficit left by outgoing Governor Bobby Jindal in December 2015. Accusing republicans of distortions and dishonesty were the norm in most editorials and political columns from the first special session thru the last special session. Most voters did not pay attention to newspaper’s daily insistence on the need for new taxes. Recent surveys of Louisiana voters continue to show a big majority do not believe Louisiana budget problems are caused solely by lack of revenue. When you look deeper into numbers you will find in most republican house districts – the number become much more anti-tax. Criticizing republican house member for not voting to raise taxes is a waste of time. I poll for some - they can be unelected for raising taxes, seldom if ever will one lose for not voting for taxes. The solidarity shown by republicans in the house during the last special session was impressive and it would not have happened if their voters back home were unhappy with their votes against more taxes. Obviously most republican and independent voters do not agree with the opinions of newspapers.
Governor John Bell Edwards was certainly not a big winner. Naming him a loser is hard for me as a pollster. He had no choice being a democrat but to raise revenue, the amount he was demanding was never realistic based on attitudes of Louisiana voters and their lack of support for more taxes. Governor Edwards support of teacher unions and their attempts to undo teacher and structural reforms to K thru 12 failed as expected. I certainly understand Governor Edwards owing teacher unions for their support of his candidacy for governor. In the future, even newspapers cannot support any serious attempt by Governor Edwards to undo teacher accountability. No survey shows voters are inclined to reverse one iota of teacher accountability reforms passed in the last few years. SMOR’s first survey on Governor Edwards job performance in February had him at 42% and in May he had risen to 50%. His demands on legislators to raise taxes caused a serious shift to 40% for his negative job rating. Which means he is getting a negative rating from 51% of all white voters. As a pollster I would prefer to rate his success for the sessions with a numbers scale. I give him a 3 on a scale of one to five – five being best.