Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Make or break

Beyond the (ahem) minor matter of plugging up the $304 million budget shortfall in the space of ten days, there's a lot of political capital riding on this week's special session. The story of 2016 in state politics was the Republican revolution in the House. The story of 2017 hinges on whether the Governor can reassert some semblance of authority. The consequences of failure there would likely mean greatly diminished reelection prospects. The Republicans know this and have been calibrating their strategy accordingly.  Sensing this could be a make or break year, they are coming after him.

But there are signs that Edwards may have regained his footing somewhat.  He certainly hasn't been wasting time raising money
Gov. John Bel Edwards began raising money for his re-election campaign only eight days after taking the oath of office in January 2016 and ended the year having collected about $3 million, according to his fundraisers.

Most of those who sponsored the events were business lobbyists and others with interests before the governor and the Legislature, which is the norm in a state where private dollars fund candidates’ campaigns.

Edwards and his political allies are expecting a tough re-election campaign in 2019 from well-funded Republicans determined to prove that his election in 2015 was an anomaly in a conservative state dominated by Republicans.

“If there is opposition, you have to have the resources early on to wage a campaign,” said Dale Atkins, who helped organize a Sept. 28 fundraiser at the New Orleans home of Terrell Clayton, a developer of affordable housing.
JBE is a conventional politician who is not above the cozying up to lobbyists and donors necessitated by the process of conventional politics.  Make no mistake. It gets gross. These are not good people we've got in charge of things. But there "the army we have" at the moment so, well, here we are.

Anyway one drawback of trying to play conventional politics when you are an executive under siege (particularly when you are a Democrat) is that sometimes you tend not to play your strongest hand during the legislative process.  Witness the past eight years of President Obama's quixotic search for "grand bargains" with an obstinate Republican congress.  Witness also much of last year's three part budget squabbling between Edwards and the Republican leadership in the state House. The lesson to be learned, at the very least, is that the situation calls for a tougher negotiating posture.

It comes as a mildly pleasant surprise, then, that Governor JBE may be learning a bit.
House Republican leaders on Tuesday privately proposed covering a mid-year budget deficit in part by cutting spending on K-12 schools, public colleges and universities and the prison system but then withdrew the plan in the face of strenuous objections by Gov. John Bel Edwards and a lack of support from its own members.

GOP leadership also canceled an Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon during which the Republican-controlled committee was to take up the budget cuts favored by the leadership.
The big argument is over Edwards' proposed use of the so-called Rainy Day Fund to plug as much of the shortfall as possible.  The Governor's first good move was, rather than beginning with a "compromise" position, he asked for all of it.
Edwards has insisted on taking $119 million, the full amount legally available, to prevent cuts to higher education, K-12 schools and programs that provide home care givers for families with developmentally disabled children unable to care for themselves.

To reach the $304 million, the governor is proposing $63 million in other cuts, taking $44 million in higher-than-expected tobacco tax revenues and taking $78 million in unspent money from other accounts.

In the private meetings Tuesday, Henry and Harris said they want to take only $50 million from the rainy day fund, not $119 million, and pay for the difference – $69 million – by cutting public colleges and universities by $12 million, K-12 schools by $6 million, prisons by $9 million and the state health system by $44 million.
For the first time, Edwards seems to have forced the House leadership into a position where they have to come to him instead of the other way around.  They seem uncomfortable with that. 
Henry, following the second meeting with Edwards, said that House Republican leaders would propose a new plan on Wednesday.

“We’re trying to meet in the middle,” he said in a brief interview. “We’re trying to compromise.” He didn’t respond to a later request for more information.

State Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said House Republican leaders are facing a conundrum.

They like the power, but they don’t always like the political consequences of that power,” he said in an interview. “It requires them to make tough decisions that aren’t always popular.”
Turns out that legislatin' business is pretty hard work.  Anyway, it's early in the session, but this could be a good early sign that things are looking up for the Governor in this make or break year. 

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