Wednesday, 07 March 2018 10:13

Tyler Bridges discusses Louisiana legislative special session collapse, future options

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house cutThe Louisiana legislative process crashed with no fix for the massive fiscal cliff. What happened and where do we go from here?

This was the gist of the questions I had for Tyler Bridges, reporter for The Advocate, who covers the Louisiana legislature and politics for the newspaper.  Now that the legislative fiscal session 2018, called by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, is history and all that’s left for now, is the blame game. It is obvious that DC politics has hit Louisiana. Republicans and Democrats don’t trust one another.  Not that this comes as a surprise. But what might be the impact to the state and vital institutions, now that the impasse has been recorded?

Below is the transcript and the video of the interview with Tyler Bridges:  

SABLUDOWSKY: Have you survived the louisiana legislative session special session and you ready to go for another one?

BRIDGES: That's right, on Monday the regular session starts and that'll go to June 4th, it looks like .

SABLUDOWSKY: Okay so if you can just kind of give us a ballpark idea in terms of what happened-- seems like the republicans and democrats don't trust one another?

BRIDGES: Well I think ultimately that's what it came down into in the State House the climactic moment I think in this special session just concluded was Sunday night when the Democrats wanted to take up their bill first with just House Bill 8, which would have limited something called excess itemized deductions to people who on their federal tax return itemize, and it would have taken away a tax break that really would have affected people who earn, almost entirely what affected people who earn at least $200,000 per year.  And that would have raised 79 million dollars--is the, with this nine hundred and ninety four million dollar shortfall.  

Republicans though, in the House, insisted on taking up a sales tax bill House Bill 23 that would have renewed 1/4 of the 1 cent sales tax increase that is expiring on June 30th and and the Republican sponsor of the bill was told by Democrats and even by one Republican hey if you move forward with this bill it's not going to pass, can we do HB 8 first?  And the Republican sponsor said no and then the bill went down with only 33 votes and it needed 70.

And the Republicans, I think ,it had just had it up too and they told me later,  I kind of have had it up - up to here--and what they felt were excessive demands by Democrats particularly members of the legislative Black Caucus.  And that they felt like they had given enough in their negotiations and then the Democrats from their point of view felt like they had to move forward with their bill first because they weren't certain that the Republicans would pass it if the Republican bill first passed, so it's clearly a lack of trust on both sides.

SABLUDOWSKY: So after the session Governor John Bel Edwards, he specifically blamed the speaker and he basically said that the speaker did not fulfill his deal

BRIDGES: Yeah and the governor used very harsh language and talking about speaker Taylor Barras.  In fact, I asked the governor question why you chosen to speak so harshly than before?  The governor has been frustrated in his dealings with the speaker, feeling like the speaker tells him one thing privately and then does something different publicly.  And the governor said he was just very frustrated, so that again that reflects the frustration on both sides and the Republicans not surprisingly in that the conservatives in the house are blaming the governor.  State Representative Cameron Henry, who chairs the the budget-writing committee did a Facebook post in which he said that there should not have been a special session and the governor did not have a plan--so each side is is blaming the other.  And as the story that I wrote for The Advocate, it really kind of sounds like what's going on in Washington.

SABLUDOWSKY Right right and that went up just the other day, I think, Monday am I correct or Tuesday?

BRIDGES: I wrote that story on Monday after the special session ended and so it was posted online Monday and in the newspaper of The Advocate on Tuesday.

SABLUDOWSKY: Okay we'll put a link to it.  So I had done an interview with the Senator Appel and he likewise said that he didn't think there was any need for a session, special session, that we could have waited till the end of the regular session in June--it looks like we're going to wait till May.  I mean, the argument is "hey at that point time we'll have a better idea of what the budget might be, what the revenues might be.

BRIDGES: Well the problem with that point of view is that legislators keep looking for reasons not to take hard votes, hard votes on taxes, hard votes on cuts in spending.  It's always--let's put it off.  Let's pass the temporary tax, we'll solve the problem down the road.  That happened in 2016 when the legislature approved temporary taxes--the idea was that in 2017 they would carry out tax reform, but the house refused to do that, and the measures this year also the temporary the sales tax increase was only going to be temporary.  You know at some point, legislature really needs to make a hard some hard decisions and again they keep wanting to put it off as long as they can.  The problem that the administration's saying is that--by waiting they begin--parents are having to figure out whether the kids get TOPS scholarships--won't know--people who are the funding for the public-private hospitals that serve the poor, they're gonna start having to send layoff notices, we're told because they don't know whether they'll have the money that they need by July 1st the start of the new state's fiscal year.  So I guess Conrad Appel says that they can wait--well I guess, we'll see.  In the coming weeks, if indeed, there is all sorts of problems as administration has predicted. been predicting by awaiting.

SABLUDOWSKY: Interesting, interesting.  So we begin like said on Monday and they'll go on to mid May or early May and then we start a special session which will last about a month am I correct about that?

BRIDGES: Well right now the regular session is scheduled to end on June 4th.  What the governor has asked the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House to do is to try to wrap up the regular session about three weeks earlier and that they would then go into a special session that would end around June 4th, with the idea that there would be no extra cost to the state by having an additional special session and also get these decisions done earlier.  That's the thinking right now, of course, things can change.

SABLUDOWSKY: So that would actually I guess, expedite or speed up the regular session process which is takes a little while to get going?

BRIDGES: Yeah they don't like it, they do normally take a while to get going and the key question in the regular session, because you can't raise taxes this year during the regular session--is the passage of the budget.  The governor, The president, President Alario have both said they do not think that the Legislature will pass a budget because the budget cuts would be just too deep.  In fact, Taylor Barras told me and a couple other reporters on Monday just after the special session ended, that he also did not know that there was the political will in the House to pass the budget again without the revenue that they were trying to raise in the special session.  The interesting question is the conservatives who have voted no to taxes, this is an opportunity for them to craft a budget without the revenue that the governor and a lot of other Democrats and Republicans wanted.  So this is an opportunity for them to show that exactly where they want to cut government.  

SABLUDOWSKY:  But at least they'll have a better idea in terms of what the revenue stream might be?. 

BRIDGES: I guess it'll be a little bit clearer, but I think everybody has a pretty clear idea what the broad outlines of the situation are.   So again interesting question and they I think an upcoming regular session--is since revenue bills start in the House--is just an under Chairman Henry--to see what the Appropriations Committee, what what cuts are they wanting to make with this shortfall that was not filled during the just-completed special session.  

SABLUDOWSKY: Boy, I can tell you and I'm sure you know it, that's gonna be one heck of a conference committee and session--given that the focus is gonna be on cuts and not knowing what if there's any revenues at all to replace cuts.  I know that you have to go is anything that I didn't ask you that you want to just say or have you--

BRIDGES: Can ask me about my book on the governor's race.

SABLUDOWSKY: There it is.  Okay.  Tell us about your book in the governor's race, thank you so much.

BRIDGES: Called Longshot.  Wrote it with Jeremy Alfred.  Tells the behind-the-scenes story of how we ended up with the governor who's now in office and it gives a good insight into Louisiana politics and good history, great stories and kind of, again, it's a story where you know the outcome but you want to turn the page to find out how it happened

SABLUDOWSKY: Absolutely and we'll put a little banner and connect directly over to the book also

long shot book2

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