Special session chatter persists through holidays

Will Louisiana lawmakers be forced to gather in yet another special session in the New Year?

That’s a question representatives and senators, along with officials from the Edwards Administration, are openly pondering as 2016 transforms into 2017 and a new budget deficit begins to surface.

A current fiscal year shortfall of around $300 million is anticipated, which lawmakers will have to address sooner than later.

The two-month regular session that convenes April 10 is already weighed down by other hefty issues it will be hosting, like the 2017-18 budget debate, significant tax proposals and criminal justice reform.

As a result, according to sources in the Edwards Administration, a special session held prior to the spring regular session may be “inevitable.”

That sentiment started to spread during the Legislature’s annual Christmas party at the Capitol on Dec. 15. Earlier that day the Joint Budget Committee voted to close a $313 million deficit from last fiscal year, which created some goodwill in a building that has become better known for its conflicts as of late.

If another deficit emerges for the ongoing 2016-2017 fiscal year, it will be the 15th time Louisiana has suffered a midyear budget gap over the past nine years, according to an Associated Press tabulation.

Making the most recent deficit official is tasked to the Revenue Estimating Conference, which computes the state’s cash flow and decides how much money the government can spend.

The REC meets next in mid-January and state officials, although they know it to be unlikely, would prefer the panel find a huge spike in revenue.

After two special sessions and a regular session that resulted in a slew of temporary tax changes, lawmakers were hopeful that they had solved the challenges facing this fiscal year. But those tax increases passed earlier this year failed to bring in as much money as forecasted. Legislators were also hopeful that another special wouldn’t be needed in 2017 — especially following a record-breaking number of continuous days served in session in 2016.Changes in association ranksThe last few months have seen a wave of new leaders taking over a handful of the Capitol’s best-known lobbying associations.

It has created a different political dynamic in Baton Rouge heading into the New Year and it’s also a part of a larger changeover that’s somewhat generational.Groups that represent car dealers, chemical plant workers, nursing home operators and municipal level officials before the Legislature have seen the most recent changes. Joe Donchess is retiring at the end of the month as the executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association and John Gallagher was hired two weeks ago as the new head of the Louisiana Municipal Association. Bob Israel completed his final session this year directing the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association and has been replaced by Will Green. Plus, Greg Bowser is the new president of the Louisiana Chemical Association and the Louisiana Chemical Industry Alliance, taking the place of Dan Borné.

The last few years saw other changes at the top at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry with Stephen Waguespack, Andy Dreher stepping back from Energy and Dawn Starns moving into the NFIB-Louisiana job, just to name a few.

All are entering a new environment that now requires association directors particularly to lean from the front, embrace social media, expand missions and put an added emphasis on publicity.

LABI, for example, has seen several new elements under Waguespack, from an annual fly-in to Washington, D.C. and new lawmaker events to more public appearances for staffers and a more robust digital presence.

Political History: Gubernatorial longevity At age 89 Edwin Washington Edwards is Louisiana’s oldest living former governor, followed by Mike Foster, 86; Kathleen Blanco, 74; Buddy Roemer, 73; and Bobby Jindal, 45. Edwards, though, still has some time to put in if he wants to become the state’s longest living former governor.

That distinction belongs to Louisiana’s singing governor, Jimmie Davis, who lived to be 101 years old before passing in 2000.

To be fair, it’s still not known when he was actually born. His sharecropper parents simply couldn’t remember his birthday, Davis told The New York Times, but they thought it happened some time between 1899 and 1903.

Then there’s James Madison Wells, who lived until the age of 91. (Wells was an active Whig and a former sheriff who took office in 1865. His critics called him “Mad Wells” and he was eventually removed from office for failing to calm the violence and riots related to a constitutional convention.)

Three other governors lived until they were 86, including Joshua Baker, James A. Noe and Robert F. Kennon. Another three made it to see 81, including Sam Jones, John McKeithen and Dave Treen.They Said It“This is not a silver bullet.”—Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson, on the state’s budget problems and a task-force created report of recommendations, to the Baton Rouge Press Club“We do not live under a King in Louisiana…”—Attorney General Jeff Landry, on his court victory over the governor this month, in The Times-Picayune


About Jeremy Alford 227 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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