The Louisiana Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards are on the verge of failing once again to put our state on secure financial footing.
And, with the distinct possibility of yet another special session — and all the costs that it will bring with it — lawmakers don’t seem any closer to long-term solutions for our persistent problems.
The state House of Representatives defeated a bill this week that would have called for a constitutional convention next year that could have addressed systemic problems in our government, problems that make it nearly impossible to cut spending in many areas of the budget. The two exceptions are health care and higher education, which have seen repeated cuts in recent years and could see even more.
“I knew it would take a lot of pain and a lot of bleeding before we finally got to point where people realize we have to go in and have a convention to make holistic changes,” said Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, after his convention bill failed. “I thought we were finally there, but apparently not quite yet.”
Unfortunately, Abramson is probably right.
Our state will continue to suffer because of our officials’ continued failure to act.
At the heart of the matter is this: The state takes in less money in revenue than it plans to spend.
That means that it must either drastically reduce spending — something that would be done largely at the expense of vital public services such as hospitals and colleges — or increase the amount of tax money it receive, or a combination of the two.
The Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy gave lawmakers a guide to how they could significantly increase tax revenue by doing away with the multitude of tax breaks Louisiana gives out each year. The tax exemptions, in fact, now total an amount that’s larger than the amount of money the state collects in taxes.
“The tax structure should be fair, simple, competitive with other states, and stable over the short and long term,” the task force’s report says. “These qualities are best achieved with taxes that are broad-based with low rates, and that do not play favorites for or against a particular constituency.”
But lawmakers have failed to do much with the plan, a failure that will continue to plague our state’s finances.
Louisiana has pressing financial challenges that must be addressed before we can hope for long-term stability. Our officials in Baton Rouge, though, are poised once again simply to kick the can down the road.
It is easy to see how any reform-minded lawmakers might be discouraged by the inaction. What is more difficult to understand is the lack of urgency on the part of the Legislature as a whole.
We cannot expect our fiscal picture to look any better if we keep clinging to the flawed policies that created the hardships in the first place.
Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.