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Get out of wearying session

Our Views: Get out of wearying session
ADVOCATE EDITORIAL
May 31, 2018


While the discussions of budgets and procedures in the State Capitol continues, it’s important to remember that there is now a human element in play.

The legislators are also tired of this endless cycle of special sessions and budget wrangles.

If compromise seems elusive, maybe exhaustion will cause the legislators to stop these pointless debates.

We say pointless, not because the need to balance the budget is not pressing: Legislators have known for two solid years that a short-term patchwork of sales taxes and some other revenue-raisers were needed in the wake of the departure of the former administration. And inevitably, those short-term expedients have a short life.

Now, almost $1.4 billion in revenues roll off the statute books on June 30. That’s a crisis for any administration, but partisan wrangling over every penny, and seemingly endless internal debates about process and procedures, mean not only that time is pressing.

The internal dynamics of how the Legislature worked, after its own fashion anyway, are greatly changed in an era with Republicans of the most anti-tax stripe dominate key committees, the tax-raising Ways and Means panel and the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Now, the leaders of the House indulge themselves with arcane discussions of how to process the paperwork. And state institutions like universities and hospitals remain on the hook for a fiscal cliff that a more responsible House, not to mention the Senate, could resolve with $648 million. Not new taxes, but replacements for expiring taxes.

That’s the number that Gov. John Bel Edwards and his Republican budget chief, Jay Dardenne, said is needed after various other revenue bills and events have been wrapped into the calculations over 18 months. That also counts $120 million in general fund cuts that Dardenne will have to make even if the full $648 million in replacement taxes are passed.

Cuts beyond that level will inevitably mean reductions in either colleges, hard hit by the cuts in the years of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, or the partner hospitals who provide health care to the poor. Cutting those dollars, as is the almost inevitable consequence of the GOP plan, would leave millions of dollars in available federal funds unmatched, cutting into jobs at health care institutions as well as the care of patients.

So $648 million is a real number.

To call half of that, proposed by the GOP leadership in the House, is not really a compromise.

Accusations of bad faith fly around the State Capitol a lot these days, but the financial realities of avoiding deeper cuts to education and health care are most pressing.

We urge the Senate to push for a reasonable amount of money in the sales tax bill, about the only measure likely to help, and then the House members should vote to concur in something approaching financial reality.

The Appropriations Committee ought to pass out a budget bill that jibes with the revenue-raisers, to avoid yet another special session when this one expires on June 4.

The deadline is tight, but it should be met.

And if a balanced state budget is not reason enough, perhaps the chance to flee Baton Rouge for a time will persuade legislators to move this train wreck off the tracks.

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