But the bigger concern for the administration is not members of the House Democratic Caucus. The real worries reside on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which could inflict more damage on Edwards this year than any other legislative group or faction.As far as we know Neil hasn't switched parties just yet, although nearly everyone expects it's something he's considering if he wants to run for State Senate in the next election. In the meantime, he's taking his current job as seriously as we might expect. As Chair of Ways and Means, Abramson is responsible for managing the session's most vital task. His committee's actions will determine the shape and scope of reforms to the tax code the governor has asked for. But, as Alford discusses in this column, the governor's agenda is rapidly losing momentum. Neil's solution is to take no position on any of it and punt everything to a "limited constitutional convention," whatever that is.
When asked which plan or approach he favors, Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson, R-New Orleans, has been telling colleagues that he prefers his own plan, which includes just one bill—his House Bill 456 to call a limited constitutional convention. Coupled with the new conservative votes added to the committee recently, via the appointments of Reps. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, and Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, the Ways and Means Committee looks like a one-stop shop of horrors for the Fourth Floor.
It's possible the situation could change now that the details of Edwards's CAT tax proposal are out of the bag (sorry). This could become an opportunity to start making a more compelling argument. John Bel says, and the Louisiana Budget Project has backed him up on this, that the overall effect of his plans should amount to a tax cut for 95 percent of Louisiana families. This is premised, however, on the assumption that multiple moving parts come together more or less according to what he has asked for. For example, the LBP report singles out a proposal to lower income tax rates while eliminating the federal deduction without which, the entire scheme falls apart. And look how hard that is to accomplish.
This part of the proposal is critical for making Louisiana’s overall tax structure more equitable. Without eliminating the deduction for federal income taxes paid - which if passed by the Legislature would also require a vote of the people - the overall tax package would not improve Louisiana’s regressive tax system.
So it's not surprising that both friends and enemies are skeptical. But it's not even the ostensible Democrats like Abramson who are at the root of the problem. They're really just following the lead of the House Republicans. And, as Stephanie Grace writes this morning, those Republicans seem pretty well set on leading everybody over a "cliff."
The thinking behind the Legislature's decision a year ago to bail out the current budget with a stopgap emergency plan was that it would be forced to come up with a more stable framework this year. That was the idea behind the temporary increase in state sales tax, which took effect immediately but will drop off the books next year, creating what's become known as a $1.3 billion "fiscal cliff."
Right about now is when they were supposed to be staring it down.
This is the last fiscal session before the tax expires, which means it's the last time lawmakers will be able to raise taxes in a regularly-scheduled session as opposed to a special session. And the next fiscal session two years from now will hit just as everyone's running for re-election, which makes raising taxes on some — even if the proposal includes reducing them on others — especially daunting.
Rather than coming together and tackling the challenge once and for all, though, the opposite could happen.
Politically, the Republicans have no incentive to do anything but keep saying no. If the legislature fails to act and the "fiscal cliff" causes more budget cuts, they and the voters will just blame the governor. Poor John Bel's only real tool he has left is to keep threatening to make everyone stay after school. But, after a while, even that loses its stroke. The cumulative effect of one failed special session after another every year is the appearance of ineffectual leadership.
Still, it does look at this point like that's next on the governor's itinerary. What choice does he have? Who knows what the future may hold for Neil, though... regardless of whatever spoilers and hints Alford may be laying for us.