The 60-Day Challenge

When the regular session of the Louisiana Legislature convenes on April 10, it will all come down to clock management for lawmakers and the Edwards Administration. So forget all of the marathon metaphors that you know, because this coming session, which concludes on June 8, is definitely going to be a sprint.

How much can the governor, House and Senate realistically accomplish in 60 days? If all involved manage to stay focused, the end results could be bountiful and meaningful. But policymaking is always easier said than done.

Those eight and a half weeks, positioned squarely in the middle of springtime in Louisiana, will host a bevy of distractions for lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ team.

Special interests and legislators will be pushing their own issues that have nothing to do with the budget or tax revenue, which are nonetheless destined to be the session’s featured players. Political action committees will be watching all of the debates closely, attacking those who can vote or veto and building narratives for elections that are more than two years away.

Strip all of that noise away, though, and you’ll see that the primary goal of lawmakers and the Edwards Administration during the regular session will be to dig Louisiana out of its fiscal funk. It’s a broadly-drawn goal, to be certain, but it is without a doubt the focus of most folks who work in the Capitol these days.

That goal applies to the short term, with $1.2 billion in temporary tax money set to disappear in 2018. And it applies to the shorter term, particularly a $400 million budget shortfall that’s forecasted for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

And, yes, the same goal applies to the long term as well, especially as concern builds over the fiscal integrity of state government. No one wants to perpetuate this cycle of budget deficits and deep spending cuts.

Like it has been for the past four sessions, the House will set the tone and the pace of negotiations. If recent history is any indication, the governor will go high for his revenue proposals and the House will go low. Very low. Somehow the Senate will have to insert itself in the middle and find some common ground.

That was the way talks played out during the special session that adjourned last month. There’s actually a bit of negative foreshadowing to glean from that special session as well as some silver linings.

For starters, lawmakers and the administration only had a week and a half to fix a $304 million midyear deficit — and they accomplished just that.

The bad news is that tempers flared, negotiations broke down a few times and disagreements were intense. Which was slightly surprising.

No taxes increases were passed, or even proposed. Spending only had to be cut by $82 million. Nearly $100 million was transferred from the state’s special savings account to help out.

Most of the rancor centered on how to use a few million dollars here and a few million dollars there. While every penny is critical, it’s important to understand that the loudest clashes were produced by what were nickels and dimes in a $27 billion budget.

How will this mentality hold up in a 60-day regular session that hosts truly hefty threats, like a $400 million deficit and a loss of $1.2 billion in temporary tax money?

The pressure will be like nothing we’ve seen so far in this term. In fact, the ability to stay focused on these budget matters will be of the upmost importance to lawmakers.

Other issues will be jockeying for attention, such as criminal justice reform. Influential lobbyists and special interest groups are locked onto the policy push — and they’ll be asking lawmakers to be smart on crime while trying to keep them from looking soft on crime.

Parents and students may end up packing the Capitol as the debate over the TOPS scholarship program gets serious. Email inboxes, text messages and voicemails alone can send a legislator’s district office to a grinding halt. Just try balancing that level of constituent engagement while taking part in what may be one of the most important fiscal debates of modern times.

Conservatives and white Democrats, in particular, are in a delicate spot. Groups like the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority and the Louisiana chapter of Americans For Prosperity will be tracking all votes. They could even drop targeted mailers, launch door-to-door operations and underwrite robocalls in legislative districts during the session.

Eight and a half weeks can seem like an eternity when you’re dealing with that kind of political drama. A reluctance by Republicans to increase taxes, as Democrats dig in for proposed hikes, will only make it seem longer. Still, the primary goal is well known and the timeline to address the related challenges is well defined.

The 60-day challenge is almost here, whether lawmakers and the administration are ready for it or not. Here’s hoping they run out of distractions and delays before they run out of time.

RECENT STORIES

PSC May Sue Legislature

The Public Service Commission is expected to meet in executive session on Friday to discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the Louisiana Legislature. The request for an executive session was made by Commission Chair Eric Skrmetta. At issue is the passage of SB 50 (Act 278) by Sen. Blade Morrish, which addresses certain forms […]

GONE FISHING: Annual Summer Publishing Break

Annual Summer Publishing Break: June 20 — July 10, 2017 Dear Friend, Longtime LaPolitics subscribers know the final week of June and the first week of July mark our annual summer publishing break. There’s also an Easter publishing break, but the Legislature had other ideas for the LaPolitics family of publications this year. That scheduled week off […]

SCHRODER RESIGNING

Turning attention to race for treasurer State Rep. John Schroder of Covington has filed the required paperwork to resign from the Louisiana House of Representatives and intends to vacate his seat immediately following the adjournment of the regular session on Thursday, he told friends and family during a gathering this evening. Schroder told supporters that […]

Critics Still Want John White’s Job

The following story was originally published on April 21, 2017, for subscribers to LaPolitics Weekly. Wish you would have seen it then? Sign up now! A small handful of influential political players and legislators, including at least one chairman, are making a hard push to remove Education Superintendent John White from his position. Both sides […]

PSC Speculation

In the wake of news that Pubic Service Commissioner Scott Angelle was being vetted in March for a position with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, politicos have turned their attention to the possibility of his seat opening up on the PSC. If Angelle does get a nod from the Trump Administration, then […]

UPDATED: Two Capital Outlay Bills Coming

With a 6 p.m. bill filing deadline approaching, it appears the Legislature will be seeing double when it comes to the annual construction budget. Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson is expected to introduce his version of HB 2, which will mirror the capital outlay plan the administration recently drafted. However, Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger will […]

JBE Fundraising Report: $3.2M COH

READ THE ENTIRE REPORT HERE! — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign has raised $3.6 million since he was elected governor in 2015 — He raised $3.2 million in 2016 — Edwards ended 2016 with $3.2 million cash on hand — 1,636 new contributors in 2016 —$3.4 million raised from Louisiana contributors — Edwards did not fundraise during the […]