The special session has been dominated so far by tax issues, which can only originate in the House of Representatives, which in turn has allowed the lower chamber to set the pace over the past week or so.
To take it a step further, tax policy almost always has to start in the House Ways and Means Committee, which places Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, in what is arguably one of the most important positions in the 2016 special session.
A New Orleans resident who grew up in Gonzales and attended high school in Baton Rouge, Abramson was an all-state football standout who played in college as well. Now an attorney, Abramson, 48, was editor the Louisiana Law Review and has clerked for federal judges and members of Congress.
He’s also one of the few Democrats in the House’s heavily-Republican leadership structure, which is allowing him to hop from one political pond to another.
“We’re all in this together,” he said in a recent interview. “Trusting the magnitude of the shortfalls, I think we all realize that the solution is going to have to be a balance of cuts and revenue.”
Abramson has been overseeing long hearings on tax bills, sometimes into the night, but held off on actual votes until this week, the second week of the special session that must adjourn by March 9.
He said he has been working with House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and other legislative leaders to make sure his committee only takes votes when necessary. There’s little interest in passing several small tax bills when fewer might make the difference, or moving legislation that might die on the floor.
“No one wants to take unnecessary votes,” he said.
The man with the gavel, however, is concerned that tax policy is not being approached holistically in the special session. Like he has in previous years, you can expect Abramson to bring back one of his perennial bills to address the issue in the regular session.
“I’ll have a bill to hold a constitutional convention,” he said. “We can’t keep working year to year.”
Abramson so far has six bills filed for the special session, with a couple focusing on lifting low-income citizens out of poverty. He wants to modify the Enterprise Zone Program to include a special credit for new employees who were previously on public assistance and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, in conjunction with adjustments to income tax rates.
He also has HB 53, which would clean two pennies of the state sales tax and create a mechanism to replace the inventory tax with a five-year bridge funded by a half penny that would go into a dedicated fund.