By Jeremy Alford, Sarah Gamard & Mitch Rabalais
The year’s second special session is expected to convene Tuesday, giving lawmakers 14 days to solve the state’s longstanding revenue and budget challenges.
Essentially the same body of elected officials — nine out of 144 legislators have been replaced thus far — will gather in the exact same building to presumably debate the same revenue and tax issues that they’ve already endorsed, rejected or ignored over the past 28 months. It will be the ninth session of the term and this Legislature’s sixth special session.
Has anything changed since the year’s first special session, when lawmakers went in search of revenue solutions and found political gridlock instead? An examination of that session’s most important choke points by LaPolitics.com didn’t show much movement.
The so-called “linchpin to agreement” for 2018’s first special session, at one point, was HB 8 by Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans. It fell three votes short of passage on March 2 when four Democrats — Reps. Gary Carter of New Orleans, Cedric Glover of Shreveport, Jimmy Harris of New Orleans and Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge — voted in opposition.
The four lawmakers backed away from the bill that was favored by many other Democrats because they had concerns about its passage being tied to other instruments, including legislation from Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Gonzales, which critics contended restricted access to Medicaid in the name of fraud prevention.
As originally introduced, Leger’s bill would have reduced the amount that Louisiana taxpayers deduct on their state individual income taxes for excess federal itemized personal deductions.
Negotiations also got tough during the year’s first special session when Capitol players realized the Legislative Black Caucus wasn’t just being cute about its own concerns regarding the renewal of the thought-to-be temporary portion of the state sales tax structure. Influencers also overlooked the important of income tax changes to caucus members, which was otherwise clearly communicated in at least one letter penned by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans.
Have any of these stances changed with time, say, since the first special session of the year ended March 5?
Sen. Carter said he is willing to (possibly, maybe) support a sales tax component, adding, “I don’t like.”
But he’ll only do so if it’s considered alongside changes to excess itemized deductions, income taxes, sales tax breaks and at least a partial restoration of the so-called Stelly Plan. To repeat the same policy exercise as the last special session, he said, would be “idiotic.”
Bacala, who was able to pass his latest Medicaid fraud bill through the House on last week by a 59-31 vote, told LaPolitics he is willing to push for the same provisions again in the second special session if the Senate spikes his proposal and the governor’s special session call includes the topic. He’s also still a fan of merging different pieces of legislation.
“I think it made some bills more attractive,” he said. “It may have moved the vote count a little bit.”
Rep. Carter still won’t budge on anything that allows Medicaid restrictions.
“My thinking of it hasn’t changed,” he said. Even if those measures were off the table, he added, “It will be hard for me to vote for the sales tax.”
Marcelle is only open to considering sales tax hikes if income tax brackets have a chance of being compressed. And if GOP-backed Medicaid measures are lumped together with a sales tax bill again, she said, “Nothing’s going to change for me.”
Glover is on the same page: “Even if we end up with a version… of an income tax adjustment, if it comes wrapped around punitive and unnecessary measures like the Medicaid measures that were connected to it, then I’m not going to vote for either.”
While these five interviews don’t necessarily indicate another three and a half weeks of doom and gloom — the anticipated adjournment date is June 4 — they do reveal how much work legislators and the administration have ahead of them.
Before Cantrell, “Dutch” Broke Barriers
Over the course of its 300 year history, New Orleans has prided itself on the unique mix of people that give the city its cultural flavor.
Last week, LaToya Cantrell made history by becoming the Crescent City’s first female mayor. Forty years ago, another politician broke barriers at City Hall.
On May 1, 1978, Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial took the oath of office as the first African-American to become Mayor of New Orleans. It was a crowning accomplishment for the distinguished man who had personally integrated LSU Law School, a U.S. attorney’s office, the Louisiana Legislature and the state’s judicial bench.
Morial was a leading member of the group of former civil rights activists who had risen to the top positions in their cities during the 1970s and 80s. Others included Mayors Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Marion Barry in Washington, D.C., and Harold Washington in Chicago.
For the inaugural festivities, Morial wore a white suit, the traditional outfit for an incoming mayor. He appeared excited and animated as he made his way onto the platform that had been constructed outside of City Hall for the ceremony. Outgoing Mayor Moon Landrieu joined Morial and his family on the dais.
In his inaugural address, Morial reminisced about the legacy of segregation in New Orleans:
“Many years ago, when I was a small boy, I daily passed a beautiful park near Elysian Fields Avenue,” he said. “Children were always playing there in a kind of freedom that came to them naturally. But because of the laws of my childhood, I was allowed to do no more than look through the bars of the fence. I have never forgotten those bars. They stand forever in my memory as a symbol of a city divided against itself.”
“I was overwhelmed by the change that had come over the course of three decades,” recalled Morial’s wife, Sibyl, in her memoir Witness to Change. “A black man who once could not step inside a public park was now at the helm of his city’s government.”
However, Morial was keenly aware that divides still very much existed within the city. Keeping that in mind, he closed his speech with a pledge: “It will be an administration of all of the people and it will be founded on integrity, intelligence, courage and the willingness to serve others well.”
They Said It
“I’m not dancing on the table for you. That’s for sure.”
—State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, presenting her first bill to Senate Finance, upon being asked by senators if she knew about the committee’s initiation rites
“Oh, I’m not the governor. I don’t even want to try that.”
—House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, in an interview with The Times-Picayune