Outside influence adds to special session pressure

The governor isn’t the only one trying to influence the votes of lawmakers in the ongoing second special session that ends on June 23.

The Louisiana Manufacturers Political Action Committee has purchased more than 3,000 radio spots over the next two weeks that urge voters to contact lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards to ask them to oppose tax increases.

“The state has increased business taxes recently to the point that new capital investments and the creation of new jobs will suffer,” said Greg Bowser, LAMP’s administrator and executive vice president of the Louisiana Chemical Association. “Billions of dollars in announced but not yet started projects are at risk because these new taxes were not anticipated.”

Americans for Prosperity’s Louisiana chapter dropped mail pieces last week in the House districts of six Republicans who have been friendly to Edwards’ revenue-raising agenda.State director John Kay said grassroots operations are also underway in other districts as well.

The mail pieces warn voters: “DANGER! TAX HIKES AHEAD.”

The pieces also tag lawmakers for their support of sales tax changes in the first special session. Some of the House members targeted are preparing a formal reaction and may hold a press conference.

The House, more so than the Senate, seems to be seeing the most action.

Freshmen lawmakers, for example, have heard concerns directly from Republican donors and influencers like Lane Grigsby of Baton Rouge — sometimes in personal meetings.

The Louisiana Republican Party is also distributing the House and Senate switchboard phone numbers to its grassroots lists.

From the latest email: “Call your legislators and urge them to VOTE NO on all tax increases during the special session…” On the other end of the spectrum, the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two teachers unions, is spending $60,000 on an outreach campaign right now to convince lawmakers to raise taxes to help fund education needs.

Predicting a last-minute debate over hospital funding, the Louisiana Hospital Association launched a television, radio and social media ad campaign on May 23 and the spots stayed on the air until June 5, the day before the second special session convened.

Starting with imagery of the Capitol and talk of politics in Baton Rouge, the spots focused on the impact of budget cuts on jobs and health care access in Louisiana.

LHA spokesperson Mike Thompson said hospital care has been cut across the state by more than 25 percent, or $1.4 billion, since 2009.

In what amounts to a public information campaign, an advocacy group is promoting the idea of a higher cigarette tax during the second special session even though it’s not on the governor’s call. That means the topic cannot be voted on.

Invest in a Healthy Louisiana, partly funded by the Rapides Foundation, made the buy several weeks ago.

“We still want to point out that this is a relatively painless approach to raising lots of money — $200 million — and addressing health outcomes,” said Randy Hayden, a consultant with the group.

Hayden said the recent increases have only set Louisiana taxes at $1.08 per pack, significantly less than the national average of $1.61. He added that polling shows support for an additional tax of $1.25 per pack.

The Invest in a Healthy Louisiana Coalition consists of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Louisiana, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living and other health advocacy groups.Dedications transfer not a dead issueTreasurer John Kennedy went on WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge last week and more or less told the Legislature to ignore Gov. John Bel Edwards’ call for new revenue until they can get handle on how much money the state will receive from recent tax changes.

“The conservative, smart thing to do is shut this special session down,” Kennedy said.

Conservatives in the House are still hoping Kennedy will move forward with a plan from Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, to reroute $74 million in departmental and agency cash from statutory and constitutional dedications. The House passed a resolution last week asking to do just that.

The Senate and governor are opposed, but Kennedy believes he ma be able to pull the trigger on his own authority and without any further legislative action.

“I want to make a rational decision and I don’t want it to be politicized,” Kennedy said. “Our attorneys are researching it.”

Should the Legislature short a critical or popular

government service — like TOPS, for example — Kennedy could jump in at the last moment and make the transfer. To be certain, if he does it, Kennedy would be the only candidate for the U.S. Senate to claim he personally saved TOPS. Clock running on sales tax flubJust because the Legislature seems poised to fix a number of unintended consequences from the first special session in regard to the temporary suspension of sales tax exemptions, that doesn’t mean groups like the Girl Scouts are off the hook for paying the additional tax.

According to Kizzy A. Payton, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Revenue, those changes are currently “in effect and state sales tax should be collected upon those transactions.”

Money would have to paid from April 1 to the effective date of the legislation lawmakers are expected to pass in the special session that convenes Monday.Forces coalescing around RichmondIt’s good to be the incumbent in the 2nd Congressional District.

For example, while facing a challenge from Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Congressman Cedric Richmond managed to secure an official endorsement from the Louisiana Democrat Party last month.

But it doesn’t stop there. A source with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told LaPolitics recently that if, by some twist of fate, Richmond starts to look vulnerable, the organization will be ready to step in.

Also last month, Louisiana AFL-CIO President Louis Reine told those attending a labor breakfast in New Orleans that his group has decided to endorse Richmond’s re-election bid. It arrives with some sting for Holden, who has always maintained a good relationship with labor.

 

About Jeremy Alford 211 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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