With the Louisiana Legislature out of substantive action hopefully for at least nine more months and an election in between, it’s time for nuisance candidates to come out of the woodwork, which a pair of northwest Louisiana incumbents running for reelection this fall must endure.
Given the voting behavior of its legislators, southeast Shreveport might have the most conservative electorate in the state. That area houses Senate District 37 represented by Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock and House District 5 with GOP state Rep. Alan Seabaugh. The former has averaged over 80 this past term (not including this year) according to the Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting scorecard and the latter has had a mean of 75 (with 100 the maximum conservative/reform score).
Conservatives statewide consider both as standard bearers, in different ways. Peacock prefers staying out of the limelight and tackling nuts-and-bolts issues, while Seabaugh vigorously pushes high-profile issue preferences detested by the political left. Perhaps most famously, Seabaugh was the leading figure in preventing a vote last year to renew a sales tax increase of 0.5 percent. When subsequently only a 0.45 percent hike passed (which he also opposed), in essence he saved Louisiana taxpayers around $240 million a year over seven years. Neither of them, each remaining eligible for one more term, faced a real challenge from the left in 2015. Peacock ran unopposed while Seabaugh defeated a former judicial candidate with over 70 percent of the vote.
But their relative invulnerability apparently won’t stop the hard left from taking a swing at them in 2019. One of my colleagues at Louisiana State University Shreveport, Brain Salvatore, aims to take on Seabaugh, while a local artist and National Organization for Women chapter president Debbie Hollis intends to battle Peacock.
Of the two, Salvatore appears to take his task more seriously. His campaign’s social media page has frequent posts asking for donations that would have to be plentiful for him to be competitive, and he at least tries to appear more centrist by posts pledging to pursue bipartisan policy-making (neglecting to mention his own partisan affiliation) and claiming not to be anti-business when corporations act “pro-citizen.” Naturally, he takes shots at Seabaugh as well, implying that he is part of a defective state government.
But his posts also display not only tone-deafness about issues of the day, but about his district’s preferences. By way of example of the former, he alleges to support greater economic development and opportunity, yet also extolls the state sales tax increase of last year which will extract an estimated $500 million annually out of the people’s pockets, thereby attenuating their opportunities. In contrast, one example he held up for development was government-sponsored, through the taxpayer-financed Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City.
Concerning the latter kind of obliviousness, Salvatore also promoted his involvement with a rally advocating greater restrictions on Second Amendment rights. That will not go down well with a constituency keenly protective of its gun rights. While circumspect in other ways to discourage the impression that he’s the kind of full-spectrum liberal that the district’s voters shun, little hints pervade suggesting that.
(His higher education employment also brings up a question all such candidates must answer to voters: how will he perform his taxpayer-paid job and serve in the Legislature? Almost the only exception to dual officeholdinginvolving full-time executive branch employees are higher education faculty members and administrators, but legislative service cannot interfere with or supplant contracted duties. That the Legislature meets regularly during the spring semester and can go into special session at any time makes it very difficult to do both, so Salvatore needs to explain to voters how that would be accomplished. Otherwise, he’s open to the charge of making promises that he can’t keep.)
Then there’s Hollis, whose reveals all with social media posts befitting what she proudly calls herself – a progressive. Thus, like Salvatore she rails against presumed corporate special interests, wants to reverse advances in educational choice and accountability, and seeks elimination of tax exceptions without flattening rates. (She also attended the same gun control rally that he did.)
But she additionally leads with her chin, by disparaging pro-life advocates, offering militant support for abortion, promoting free birth control, spreading the discredited assertion that women don’t receive equal pay for equal work, and supporting the Luddite fascination some fringe elements have in restricting oil pipelines in the state. None of this will endear the district’s voters to her.
Nor does she display much breadth and depth in her thinking. One entry she posted from another source alleged that the pro-life movement harbored white supremacist sentiments, when in fact the abortion and birth control movements in America trace back to eugenics-based arguments that assigned racial inferiority to blacks (as reminded recently by the writings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas).
With views so out of step with their districts, neither has a chance to win. That may not be the point so much as it is to spend a few months being a burr in the sides of conservative legislators who likely will take on significant leadership posts in their final four years in office.
The circus continues its run in Webster Parish, which looks generally bucolic and peaceful but the tumultuous, racially-tinged politics surrounding it tries the citizenry’s patience.
Its largest municipality Minden has gone through turmoil since the beginning of the year. A power struggle has developed between a black Democrat majority on the City Council and the white Republican mayor, Terry Gardner elected last year, often backed by the two minority white Republicans on the Council. The town has a narrow black population majority.
The tussle has flared particularly over the police department. Gardner and the new no-party white elected chief of police, Steve Cropper, have argued the department faces a staffing crisis and have promoted the hiring of more officers. But in March, the three Democrats rejected the hiring of two apparently qualified candidates. Gardner then vetoed the rejection. Still, this led to the majority’s authoring an ordinance that interposed the Council between the chief’s recommendation and the mayor’s hiring, effectively giving it a veto power over hiring. Then in May persons unpublicized performed a deep dive into social media accounts of existing officers; the department at the beginning of the year had implemented a policy where officers could not make negative comments about the city. They circulated posts from two officers, brothers, made years prior to their employment which expressed racial stereotypes and racist language. However, the officers didn’t admit that they actually posted the offending material.
While those displeased with the officer’s continued association with the department have a point that citizen confidence in that’s officer’s impartial performance of his duties suffered with discovery of his posts and it reflects negatively on the department as a whole, civil service niceties may foreclose his departure and the neither mayor nor chief deserve blame, much less provoke a crisis in public safety as a form of protest. The Council making itself part of the vetting process for new hires also raises the specter of hyper-politicization of public safety and likely will discourage applicants for a job that already pays about as much as a low-level Walmart position.
But city organs feuding in a way that suggests a racial component to the conflict at least causes only dysfunction. In the nearby hamlet of Cotton Valley, citizens endured outright corruption from a mayor they can’t eject.
Recently, a state court found Mayor Joseph Alexander, a black Democrat first elected in 2016, guilty of felonious abuse of power in office. He influenced a neighboring town to disregard its arrest of him for allegedly possessing material to hoot up, and also used town money to pay for personal travel.
Alexander’s defense seemed to imply some kind vendetta behind his prosecution by the white Republican District Attorney Schuyler Marvin’s office. Despite his conviction, he may remain in office even up to his next election, as while the Constitutionforces the resignation of elected officials who commit felonies, it happens only after exhausting all legal appeals.
Webster citizens deserve better than dysfunction and dishonesty. Race shouldn’t be used as wedge issue that doesn’t discourage either.
This past regular session, the Louisiana Legislature with Gov. John Bel Edwards created a frameworkto increase, yet again, judicial salaries. State judges – those on the Supreme Court, the five appellate courts, and 42 district courts, totaling 372 all in all – will receive a 2.5 percent pay hike starting this upcoming fiscal year. They could receive the same in the following four years, if the Supreme Court and the Judicial Budgetary Control Board – comprised mostly of judges at all levels of the judiciary – certify that the funding exists for another round of raises.
A pay raise next year, which includes 68 other local judges and a handful of administrators, would add $1.8 million. Supreme Court associate justices makearound $159,000 annually and their appellate counterparts and district judges pull in about $149,000, while the chief justices of each earn an extra $8,000 or so. Over the years, taxpayers have received a steady stream of poormouthing about Louisiana’s judiciary as justification for ongoing, continuing raises. In fact, the state’s judges do better in salary terms than almost all of their neighbors and in recent years have had pay rise faster than inflation. Nationally, in cost-of-living terms, the most recent data (2016) ranks the state’s district judges as garnering the 12th-best pay in the nation.
But the real question is not relative, but absolute. For a job with very flexible hours, almost for life until somewhat after age 70 (because incumbents who run rarely face a challenge, much less lose it), and no oversight for quality of their decisions (only gross ethics violations stirs the state’s Judiciary Commission, comprised of judges policing themselves, to discipline a judge and the Legislature hasn’t impeached a judge yet), that’s good pay. It’s no wonder that lawyers chomp at the bit to land one of these, and getting oneself elected to a judgeship is the most common reason a legislator leaves office early or after term limitation.
So, despite all the patting each other on the back, legislators don’t need to hand out salary increases to judges. And at least this effort doesn’t force the Legislature to appropriate more money for that purpose this upcoming year, as for next year the judiciary will rely upon its reserves to foot the increase.
Which are considerable – $58 million compared to a budget just under three times that. Not that the public easily can discover that fact; the Louisiana Checkbook facility only contains information about executive branch spending, and auditor reports don’t go into income statements or balance sheets of the Supreme or appellate courts.
Going forward, the Legislature should signal that it will not toss extra bucks to support any existing pay raise given state judges this next year, much less to extend that in the future. If judges want that, they can dip into their reserves to take home more pay while the Legislature takes out a like amount from other judicial activities in its budget. That will take fortitude because by the judiciary issuing the hike this next year (and deliberately so to force the hand of future legislatures, which is why judges would go to the length of dipping into reserves), that gets baked into future salary to a large extent (the Constitution forbids decreasing the compensation of a judge in the term elected – four, six, or ten years).
But it’s the right thing to do by taxpayers. The case hasn’t been made for shoveling more money to judges.
Even if delayed, the day of reckoning will come for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “Justice Reinvestment Initiative.”
That may be the ultimate outcome from what HB 551started this just-concluded session of the Legislature. That bill, by Democrat state Rep. Katrina Jackson that Edwards should sign, bumps up the daily payment the state makes to local jail operators, typically sheriffs either directly or through a contractual arrangement.
Two years ago, Edwards cajoled the Legislature to provide bipartisan support into changing sentencing guidelines and lengths for a wide variety of crimes, with the effect of reducing the number of inmates imprisoned at any one time and thereby lowering direct costs. Seventy percent of the amount not spent as a result then would be plowed back into measures to reduce recidivism, with 80 percent of that going to the local facilities and community programs. With over half of all state prisoners housed at this level, the thinking was the program would let taxpayers get a bit of a break and money would go to activities discouraging recidivism. The first eight months of the effort produced “savings” of $12.2 million, mainly at the expense of local jails whose populations shrank by a sixth. This had the purpose of driving up per prisoner costs at these, for local jailers’ fixed costs didn’t decrease, putting more pressure on them to accept inmates at the fixed cost of $24.39 a day.
Note that since 1991, this per diem had increased only 16 percent while inflation rose nearly 88 percent. Then, it wasn’t such a bargain for the state to house its prisoners locally, and less than a quarter were. The last increase occurred in 2008; since then prices have risen 16 percent.
Given these economic pressures, sheriffs increasingly indicated that they would start rejecting state overtures to house inmates, thus the introduction of HB 551. In its final form, the bill jacks up the reimbursement rate a buck for this next fiscal year and a buck more the year after, for a final increase of about 8 percent that will cost about $12 million more a year.
That would wipe out the present savings, although the forecast amount of these escalates from there. By 2027, a weighted average of 3,715 fewer inmates for all 365 days of the year at the $24.39 rate saves around $33 million annually, or $21 million to the good.
Except that you can’t expect sheriffs to stand pat on that. Even at the most recent 12-month inflation rate of 2 percent, by 2027 they would be 6 percent worse than they are starting Jul. 1. And the bill initially recognized that, which would have kicked on three more single dollar hikes in the three years after the two set to become law. Undoubtedly, this didn’t get past the Edwards Administration, who would have seen the savings go up in smoke and then some, so the Edwards-friendly Senate knocked off those raises.
That left Edwards able to make the campaign selling point about the savings while not solving the problem until after his attempt at reelection this fall. In the final analysis, the initiative had a main goal of beefing up local capacity to reduce costs by cutting recidivism rates, but that capacity exists only if the state spends more to shore it up. It means this at best won’t save money; it likely will cost more money within a few years.
Edwards can claim this, one of his two biggest policy implementations in office, decreases Louisiana’s prison population. He might be able to claim, but only long after he leaves office, that it reduced crime because of rehabilitation efforts connected to the initiative that will take years – if that happens – to make an impact. But he cannot claim that it will save the state money in the long run.
TIMED 2.0 has a lot of northeast Louisiana upset, in some ways for the wrong reason that if understood should perturb people statewide.
The recently-completed regular session of the Louisiana Legislature produced HB 578 by Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee, which shoots out almost $700 million worth of spending over the next 15 years on various infrastructure projects. It draws that money from the state’s settlement with BP over the 2010 Macondo blowout offshore the state, the $53.3 million annual payment of over that span should have gone to the Budget Stabilization Fund and two health care-related funds. Instead, from next year until the pact’s 2034 conclusion the payment goes to these projects.
The controversyhas come because originally the bill allocated only around $275 million to two projects, one with a direct impact on the energy sector in south Louisiana and another as a sop to the Capitol Region. After 2026, all of the remaining payouts would have gone to a fund for infrastructure. But the Senate amended it to designate other projects and sent the product to the House two days before the session’s end, leaving little time for conference if the House rejected that. Those amendments reflected various regions of the state, adding only two urgent matters: finishing the northern and southern parts of Interstate 49 after more than three decades. Items as trivial as cranes and ferries made the cut. But these left out one part of the state, the northeast, which led to bitter denunciations of the result by some members representing that area. Others noted a portion of the bill addressed rural bridges across the state that would help the region or that the regular capital outlay bill HB 2 contained items helpful to the area.
However, the real issue isn’t whether northeast Louisiana got its fair share, but that the bill locks the state into several trivial projects that eliminates flexibility going forward. Not only that, the history of the TIMED program shows the costs could go far higher than anticipated.
In 1989, the state implemented that program, which was to complete 16 supposedly critical infrastructure projects using an extra 4 cent levy in gas tax in pay-as-you-go fashion. Originally pegged at $1.4 billion and 15 years to complete, it nearly quadrupled in price and didn’t finish up until 2016, after it began selling bonds and capturing a penny of the regular 16 cent gas tax and jettisoning two of the projects – one of which appears in HB 578. Motorists will continue to pay the levy for at least a couple of more decades as a result.
TIMED mimics the current bill in two ways: its lumping together of important and relatively unimportant projects judged by statewide impact from across the state in order to win enough votes for passage and that it locks in money for the long term that might have better use for other things in the future. And if it follows suit, it will emulate TIMED in yet another uncomfortable way: having its revenue stream end with taxpayers on the hook for incomplete projects years away from finishing.
In a world that made sense, the three inarguably important projects of statewide impact plus the money allocated for bridges legislators would have plunked long ago into capital outlay budget under the highest priority, the other items would have ended up farther down the line if in the queue at all, and the nearly $700 million would have gone into its intended funds. At the very least, it all could have gone into a fund where on an annual basis it could have backed capital outlay projects urgently needed at that moment in time.
Instead, the state inflexibly committed itself to a set of projects of dubious statewide worth that may prove far more expensive and time-consuming. Worst of all, bonds issued on these won’t even count against the state’s ceiling on net taxpayer supported debt.
Although he won’t because, like these legislators, he’s running for reelection and wants to toss goodies to the public, this is why Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards should veto the bill or at least exercise line item veto power over all but the items with statewide impact.
In 2016, the state conducted its primary elections for major party presidential nominations as, by law, the first Saturday in March. That came right after “Super Tuesday,” where voters in ten states plus a caucus state selected about a quarter of Republican convention delegates while Democrats in the same number of states voted along with caucus-goers in a state and territory chose about a fifth of their convention delegates.
Lumped in with caucuses in a few other states, Louisiana attracted little attention coming after the major effort by candidates for Super Tuesday. While candidate organizations proved active the candidates themselves with the exception of next-door Republican Sen. Ted Cruz ignored the state, and then controversy ensued when future GOP Pres. Donald Trump edged out Cruz in the primary results but the apportionment math and wishes of other candidates gave Cruz the majority of the state’s delegates. But whatever attention Louisiana received in 2016 looks likely to diminish further in 2020 because of HB 563 by Republican state Rep. Gregory Miller. This annual election bill typically deals with a lot of minutiae around conducting elections, but occasionally has something with a significant political impact.
That happened with this edition, because it moved back the primary date in the state from Mar. 7, right after the 2020 edition of Super Tuesday, to Apr. 4 on account of Easter falling on Apr. 12, which makes by law the April 11 date prohibited. Sticking to the original date would have pushed runoff elections legally scheduled five weeks after the quadrennial date for presidential preference primaries, which also would have hosted general elections for municipal and any special contests, to Apr. 11.
This change alters marginally the dynamics of elections. Those municipal contests will start relatively later and just about bump up against the ends and beginnings of terms in places set for May 1. It also means if a vacancy occurs in the Legislature the new member may not take a seat until halfway through the regular session.
However, the alteration impacts presidential campaign dynamics the most. With the evolution of the primary election as the major contributor to delegate totals and of modern mass media-based campaigning, the emphasis of the nomination process has become “front-loaded,” or where the majority of delegates are distributed relatively earlier in the process and a nominee typically arises in that period. This means contests in later states have little, if any, impact on the process.
While the change has no relevance to the Republican nomination – Trump will capture that, perhaps unanimously – Democrats have a wide-open field. Yet by Apr. 4, which Louisiana will share with far-flung Alaska and Hawai’i, over 70 percent of Democrat pledged delegates will have been elected. Three weeks after will come the “mid-Atlantic regional primary” of several such states that will determine most of the remaining delegates that could overshadow Louisiana, although as the nearest primaries before the state’s are three weeks earlier, that might entice some candidates (those perhaps bored with Hawai’i’s beautiful weather and beaches) to mosey on down to the Bayou State.
Still, history over the past four decades suggest some Democrat will have consolidated enough delegates by Louisiana’s new election date to have a commanding lead, if not already having wrapped up the race. Even the earlier date in 2016 saw Trump come in with a large lead, where Cruz was seen as the last guy left with a chance to stop him.
Practically speaking, by moving the date five weeks into the future, unless something wacky happens Louisiana basically has rendered itself insignificant in the 2020 presidential nomination sweepstakes, to the disappointment of the state’s political junkies and to professional campaign managers and media outlets who won’t make nearly as much revenues as a result.
Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards not only aimed low with his 2019 legislative agenda, he also arguably missedto cap off a dismal term in the state’s top job.
With the Louisiana Legislature now out of session and pocketbooks finally safe again, we can compare Edwards’ aspirations with his achievements on this score. Spoiler alert: it’s not impressive.
What his agenda lacked in ambitiousness it made up for in unreality. Two of his top four items he has championed since the day he took office but had no chance of enactment: a watered-down minimum wage increase (because it would not have applied statewide but would have come by local option) and a watered-down “equal pay” bill (because it didn’t mandate comparable worth or similar schemes that would force artificially employers, public or private, to push annual compensation of women closer to that of men regardless of other factors, but instead would have prevented employers from keeping compensation arrangements secret). Naturally, both never made it out of their chamber of origin, the Edwards-friendlier Senate. Such longshots damaged perception of Edwards leadership marginally, but he took a humiliating hit when the bill he supported that would have imposed an inflexible set of rules on insurers in case the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of a challenge to the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (brought, in part, by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry) went down in flames while a best-practicesalternativehe initially fought gained traction. He’ll sign the alternative and do his best to make people mistakenly think he backed it all along.
The only major initiative of his that will come into enactment almost nobody opposed, a pay raise for elementary and secondary education employees. That shows a lot of skill and leadership, running to the head of the parade. The scraps that comprised the rest of his agenda largely fit the same pattern of uncontroversial or picayunish measures.
Please Hollywood, please, don’t fling Louisiana in that briar patch.
In the Uncle Remus story “The Tar-Baby,” Br’er Rabbit escapes the clutches of Br’er Fox by tricking him through exhortation to throw him into a briar patch, into which Br’er Fox can’t follow. Similarly, Louisianans tired of wasteful government spending should hope the prejudices of film makers allow them to save big.
Recently, the state joined a growing list of state passing much greater restrictions on abortion, if U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence changes to allow their constitutionality. Act 184 prohibits abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which generally occurs around six weeks of gestation, unless the physical health of the mother is at grave risk. In response, a handful of Hollywood studios have maintained they will reevaluate whether they would shoot movies and series in states with those laws if these stand up. They particularly have targeted Georgia, which has one of the largest amounts of production among the states.
That’s no accident, for Georgia has perhaps the most generous taxpayer subsidies for motion pictures and shows of any state. As much as 30 percent of a picture’s spending (minimum $500,000) can count against income, and 8 percent of sales and use taxes are exempt. Best of all for the movie-making crowd, no cap exists on the total paid out.
That makes Louisiana look like a piker, which has a similar-sized income tax credit that can go higher in certain situations, but limits the amounts to money spent in state and caps yearly the credits awarded to $150 million and paid out to $180 million. By contrast, in fiscal year 2017 Georgia distributed $800 million worth.
Which means that Georgia must waste more taxpayer dollars than Louisiana. The most recent (2019) report issued by Louisiana showed that for every dollar the state spent on film and television subsidies, that returned only 36 cents to state and local taxpayers (34 to state, 2 to local). That means for 2018 taxpayers gave away about $100 million, most to a handful of wealthy producers with the remainder spread out to a few thousand individuals.
This transfer of wealth from the many into the hands of a few to make a large number of forgettable film and TV productions leaves the state begging in so many areas. Which should leave its citizens hopeful that the Supreme Court will embrace the standards of Act 184, because then Hollywood could carry out its threat to abandon Louisiana and thereby reduce dramatically the amount of tax dollars siphoned from state coffers.
Meaning, not only will Act 184 save lives, it’ll save money, too.
If you want to know what’s wrong with Democrats, nationally and through a Louisiana lens, look no further than debate over the state’s fiscal year 2020 budget.
As the failure of liberalism’s economic bromides of divide, take, and redistribute became increasingly clear through their application under Democrat Pres. Barack Obama (and, except for wild deficit spending throughout, most of foundational damage happened in just his first two years when Democrats controlled Congress), the far left that has captured the national party simply refuses delivery of these facts. Instead of discarding their discredited theories, they wish to double down on them, such as through infatuation with the “Green New Deal” with its ruinous costs that would do next to nothing to (theoretically) reduce alleged catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.
Simultaneously, those elites have embraced identity politics with a vengeance, believing that creating a myth of oppression against numerous groups – principally women, racial minorities, those who act differently than their physical sex suggests, and non-Christians – with coercive policies supposedly to remand would construct a majority electoral coalition. The 2016 election results showed the jury out on that strategy, but they responded to that in the same fashion as they did on the economy by engaging in escalating shrillness. With a population slowly turning against the state’s economic populism of the past but definitely conservative on social issues, liberal discourse in Louisiana occurs less frequently. Yet even diluted it comes through, as with the rhetoric surrounding the budget.
Due to renewing last year a good portion of a 2016 sales tax hike (on top of retracting sales and income tax exceptions the previous year, both of which have helped make the state’s economy almost the worst in the country), the FY 2020 edition featured little in the way of restricting programmatic growth and made forays into new commitments. But that didn’t stop a couple of Senate Democrats from echoing the party line in budget floor discussions.
From the category of minutiae, perhaps the most extreme leftist in the Legislature – and not coincidentally the state party leader – Democrat state Sen. Karen Petersonspoiled the self-congratulation over spending more by saying not enough seemed set aside for “involuntary births.” Further interrogatory activity revealed she referred to a recently-enacted law that would, pending U.S. Supreme Court action, prohibit abortion in cases where a fetal heartbeat could be detected except if grave threat existed to a woman’s physical health.
She elaborated, shouting that “[i]f you’re going to force a 12-year-old child who has been raped to have a child, raise it for her,” and if the state would “control the uterus of a woman,” it should support the children born because of that decision. She offered amendmentstotaling $17 million to address supporting humans born of women who presumably didn’t want to let them live, all of which met with defeat.
The great stupidity of her remarks came from focusing on the very rare instances of abortion because of rape or incest. While the state does not track reasonings, it does give a raw number of abortions performed annually, 8,706 in 2017. National data (collected from a sample of several states including Louisiana) show that 0.13 percent of abortions occur for the reason of killing the preborn because it was conceived from rape or incest.
Then, in summarizing the budget in a more global sense, Democrat state Sen. Eric LaFleurcautioned against restrained spending, in the context of the Louisiana’s eroding economy during the governorship of Democrat John Bel Edwards and other indicators showing the state’s poor quality of life: “We will always be on the bottom of the list if we don’t choose to fund those types of programs that will interrupt that cycle and change things. It’s going to require more than what we’re doing today.”
That’s because transferring more wealth to individuals creates disincentives for them to use their own resources to contribute to society through work, saving, and investing. Just a couple of Louisiana examples illustrate: in other states that have ended relaxed requirements for food stamps for able bodied adults without dependents – which Edwards won’t do – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rolls have fallen precipitously while former recipients have seen increases in household earnings; and Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid allowed an estimated165,000 current enrolleesto drop coverage paid for privately in favor of state taxpayers picking up the tab at the tune of over $46 million annually starting next year.
Government can’t spend its way out of poverty. Rather, it has to create programs that encourage self-sufficiency, a philosophy which has run against the grain of Louisiana politics for nearly a century. State Democrats steadfastly reject the truth of the matter and continue to pander for votes by promising to give stuff away.
Louisiana’s lousy economic and quality-of-life indicators show that attitude must change. As their remarks during budget consideration demonstrates, Democrats aren’t ready to do that.
While Louisiana’s screwy dalliance with minority government bears some blame, the halt to public policy progress in the state also falls on the shoulders of conservative Republicans too skittish to try to change that.
This arrangement where the larger Senate has a majority of fiscally conservative Republicans that likely would have approved all of these measures has occurred because of Louisiana’s personalistic political culture, which overemphasizes and magnifies the ability of politicians to distribute resources to favored constituencies. Power that accumulated into the hands of Republican Sen. Pres. John Alario, who has spent nearly half a century seeking power and privilege in the Legislature, was put into the service of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to stack the committees on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, Senate and Government Affairs, and the three Judiciary ones with these fellow travelers who don’t represent the Senate majority nor the state’s people as a whole. However, conservative Republicans haven’t helped their own agenda by their reticence to use hardball tactics to overcome this perversion of majority rule. A case in point centers around the fate of HB 372, the bill opposed by legislative Democrats and Edwards that almost certainly would have lowered vehicle insurance rates thus saving Louisianans hundreds of millions of dollars in annual premiums.
Democrats opposed it because current law richly rewards trial lawyers at ratepayer expense, and that lobby give generously to Democrats. Blocked by the Senate committee, the bill’s contents revived when a House panel read those into a related bill, SB 212. It then headed to the House floor, with Democrats vowing to challenge it.
At this point, conservative Republican leaders could have parlayed this metamorphosis in a number of ways, in combination with other bills such as HB 599, the sales tax cut, or with provisions of HB 105, the general appropriations bill with the major disagreement over giving elementary and secondary education additional money beyond pay raises. They could go all out to preserve the modified SB 212, which originally dealt with researching and reporting on commercial vehicle insurance rates, or trade it away for movement on HB 599 or dropping extra money for education out of HB 105, or various combinations, among other things.
This all remained possible as long as HB 212 stayed in its new form. Democrats wanted to have those additions stripped by challenging the germaneness of the amendments. By the chamber’s own rules, that was questionable. Customary usage dictates that while the “Speaker does not rule on germaneness absent a challenge,” it also notes that the “House does not question germaneness of committee amendments” (with germaneness defined in Rule 11.1 simply as “Every amendment shall be germane to the instrument as introduced”). In other words, germaneness challenges should apply only to amendments made on the floor, not in committee (although with some gray area here as the challenge came on accepting the committee amendments).
But when GOP Speaker Taylor Barrasdid receive that challenge, he capitulated, saying that he thought only one of the discrete amendments was germane. With that, the body acquiesced to strip all of these, returning SB 212 to its original form and throwing away the bargaining chip that could have led to saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars and/or not requiring increased educator standards in exchange for giving more money to the lowest-achieving educational system in the country.
Taking this course seems even more baffling when considering that Barras that same day ruled germane to a Senate billexempting diapers and feminine hygiene products from sales taxation floor amendments offered to restore sales tax holidays – a greater stretch than in the case of SB 212. Perhaps that seeming randomness in rationale reflected a bargaining strategy, but clearly over smaller issues.
Maybe the GOP leadership’s reluctance to swing for the fences reflects a belief that next year will be different, with Edwards failing to get reelected and Senate outcomes more faithfully reflecting the people’s wishes. But the people would have benefitted now, not in some hypothetical future where anything could (or could not) happen, and pushing through conservative legislation past Senate leadership attempts to short-circuit it would have put Edwards on the spot to defend his opposition to these things with his decision to sign or veto these measures that would likely have harmed his reelection chances.
Instead, we’re left with government as usual, with liberal Democrats successfully resisting beneficial change. Their efforts would pay off much less if conservative Republicans would stand up to them more often.