Political pace in Baton Rouge to quicken

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics


Every step closer that’s taken toward Monday’s convening of the Legislature’s regular session will bring with it more details about complicated policy proposals and a greater sense of political urgency.

Lawmakers have been charged with closing a $440 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov. John Bel Edwards is also asking the House and Senate to address $1.2 billion in temporary taxes that are scheduled to expire in 2018.

That means rapid action and intense debate.

For starters, it appears as if the main budget bill may move more quickly throughout the process as compared to last year.

The House leadership and members of the Appropriations Committee say they’re committed to moving the budget bill to the Senate at or around the midpoint of the session to give the upper chamber more time with the document.

During a session that spans just 60 days, that will give the House roughly one month, or four weeks, to act on what the governor calls a $440 million budget hole.

Conservatives, who hold a majority in the House, believe the shortfall can be solved through cuts only, whereas the governor and what is probably the lion’s share of the Senate are open to increasing taxes.

While the larger planks in the governor’s session platform have been released — changes to sales taxes, income taxes and more — there are still a few loose threads that will be revealed in the coming days and weeks.

For example, missing from the governor’s plan debut last week was any mention of giving local governments more flexibility to raise revenue. But that doesn’t mean the issue won’t surface.

Talks are still ongoing from within the Edwards Administration on how to make this happen, and it could very well be a part of whatever sales tax changes are made.

The governor will likewise be putting his support behind proposals to increase the gas tax and to modify the movie tax credit program. But Edwards did not include either in his official session plan.

By allowing lawmakers to take the lead instead, prognosticators believe it could help Edwards fade the heat on pushing a tax-heavy agenda. It also removes his name from two issues that could potentially go belly-up in the session if all of the right pieces don’t come together.