Late last year, Edwards declared he wanted consensus with the Legislature by Jan. 19 on a package to reduce a projected budget deficit of around $1 billion, a gap mainly driven by the disappearance of temporary taxes. With that in hand, he said he then would call for a February special session to implement such a plan. The Legislature cannot raise taxes in even-numbered years during the regular session that begins in March, and having a special session after the regular session’s end in June would leave little time to produce a comprehensive solution.
In making this demand, Edwards hopes to avoid continued singular association with tax increases. By rushing the Republicans who control the Legislature into signing onto this agenda by refusing to call a session for revenue-raising, he can deflect blame for reelection purposes by reminding that a permanent, income tax-raising solution and perhaps broadening the sales tax base to negate a nagging budget deficit came in bipartisan fashion.
However, in a recent media interview, Barras would not let Edwards off the hook. He realizes the emptiness of the threat not to call a special session, for two reasons. Most obviously, the Legislature doesn’t have to depend upon the governor to convene it, as it has the power to call itself into special session. For example, with the regular session commencing on Mar. 12, the special session could begin on Mar. 5, with the call petition completed by Feb. 26 – more than a month after Edwards’ deadline. Better, this call can include spending reform measures Edwards unlikely would embrace.
The only fly in the ointment to this move comes with Republican Sen. Pres. John Alario’s fealty to Edwards. Yet given the choice between increasing the chance for chaos just until the start of next fiscal year and forcing Edwards into an unpalatable budgetary position, chances are Alario would go along with joining in a call, which a majority of legislators can trigger.
Because if no such session is in the offing by Jan. 26, Edwards must present a budget with large expenditure cuts. Anything he produces makes him a target for criticism, and without a way to qualify what he will produce by appending to any discussion of that document changes that would occur as a result of an imminent special session, he will bear the full brunt of negative reaction, even if he yelps often that others should bear blame for not acceding to his tax hike wishes. Hence, he chose a deadline a week ahead of time so he could work that into budget appendices.
To his credit, Barras appears unconcerned about bullying tactics designed to hand Edwards a political victory. Further, he seems to understand that he can use this issue to trap Edwards into a nightmare scenario for the governor’s agenda – not permanent tax increases largely on corporations and on income, but permanent spending reductions with no tax increases or, as a fallback position, in sales tax rates. Edwards desperately wishes to avoid this one kind of tax hike, because while it would cause those above lower class will pay the most by far, lower-income households will pay a greater percentage of their earnings that way. If he accepts this, Edwards gets tagged, even in an oversimplified fashion, as the governor who raised taxes on the poor.
Time is on the side of Barras, not Edwards, in this matter. So, in the interview he stated he did not feel bound by any deadline and when House Republicans had something to offer, he would take it to Edwards regardless of the date. As long as he remains steadfast and he can keep his caucus in line, likely he will force Edwards into significant cuts tied to an expenditure limit and a permanent rise of the sales tax, perhaps something like the temporary one percent increase until Jun. 30 becoming a permanent half-percent extra.
Of course, some RINOs seduced by Edwards still prowl the House chambers that could spoil this strategy, but they have started self-selecting themselves into leaving office and constituent pressures with impending 2019 election may cause them to distance themselves from him. Barras and the House leadership need to stand firm on this issue to block Edwards’ persistent attempts to take Louisiana back to an ignominious past.