There were a few new faces in the Louisiana House of Representatives when the Legislature began its regular session Monday. And therein lies a tale, not really of new beginnings, but of the old business of politics and deadlock.
More new faces will show up after fall elections, with the primary on Oct. 12. There will be a large turnover in both chambers, 16 senators of 39, and 31 House members of 105, caused by term limits.
Time for a change? Well, not exactly.
The seven vacancies filled over the last few weeks were largely caused by term-limited members who sought other offices, judgeships or parish president and the like. So the political system continues to recycle its most important constituents, officeholders themselves, and districts have typically sent back to the House and Senate members who reflect the same worldviews of today’s incumbents.
With that kind of stasis, what does the 2019 Legislature promise in the way of accomplishment? We think, although hope to be proved wrong, that not much will get done.
Some of that is because of an election year, in which members may wish to shy away from controversy just before they go home to face the voters.
But there is also the record of growing partisan animosity and failure to embrace long-term solutions.
Louisiana’s State Capitol is becoming more like that mess in Washington, D.C.
State finances are in better shape, because of an increased sales tax and a hodgepodge of business tax increases. Virtually no lasting improvement in the tax code has been made, in part because every change is hobbled by resistance from vested interests; members of House and Senate may swagger in the gilded cage but they are increasingly looking over their shoulders for fear that outside pressure groups will bombard their districts with inflammatory social media posts.
Budget hearings began with the near-breakdown of the process, started by an ill-advised blockade of revenue estimates by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia. There’s not yet even an official House Bill 1, the budget bill.
It’s one thing to have different ideas about the recipe, but another thing to have no common menu to work from.
Even with everybody saying they want a teacher pay raise this year, the confusion in the kitchen has led to worries that the session won’t get it done.
This is a “fiscal” session, meaning that members have limits on bills on non-budget matters. Some of them will be political exercises with little or no chance of passing, such as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ annual call for an increased minimum wage.
But what we worry about is the lack of real movement toward long-needed reforms to state finances. Maybe there will be enough new faces in 2020 to change things but we’re not getting our hopes up about the Legislature of 2019.
— The (Baton Rouge) Advocate