Governor Abramson issued another veto last week.
The Democratic chairman of the House tax committee sided with his Republican colleagues to kill one of the main money-raising tax bills sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards.This was supposed to be the special session where we actually got down to doing some real work. During Special Session Part 1, the previous year's emergency budget shortfall forced lawmakers to resort to unpleasant regressive sales tax hikes (remember the whole "clean pennies" business) in order to catch up. The situation going in to Special Session Part Deux was still dire, but at least this time there was an opportunity to apply fairer remedies.
Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson cast the tie-breaking vote Wednesday to stall the Democratic governor's proposal to lessen an income tax break given to upper-income earners. The committee voted 10-9 against the bill.
The proposal by Republican Rep. Rob Shadoin would have raised $117 million to fill gaps in next year's budget by cutting tax breaks allowed for taxpayers who itemize on their individual income tax returns.
Or so we thought there would be. But so far nearly all of the Governor's proposals to raise revenue through progressive tax reforms such as eliminating a capital gains deduction have been rejected by Abramson's committee. Meanwhile the House managed to slip in yet another corporate tax break aimed at benefiting oil and gas companies. So, really, we're going in the wrong direction altogether.
With last week's failure of HB11 following so closely on the even stranger failure of the construction budget at the close of the regular session, Abramson has been the center of attention lately. If you've picked up your Gambit on the way to work this morning, you will have already found this commentary. It goes after Neil pretty hard.
Further evidence of their irresponsibility came last week. House Speaker Taylor Barras, a Republican from New Iberia, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, a Democrat from New Orleans who is in league with the GOP’s “Gang of No,” strained credulity in preventing a vote on the so-called Capital Outlay budget before the annual session adjourned. Both said the measure as approved by the Senate had unspecified “technical” defects, yet they did nothing with the bill for the final five days of the session. Abramson literally hid from his colleagues to avoid bringing up the bill for a vote. Then, one day after the regular session ended (on the first morning of the special session), Abramson’s committee approved the measure in an hour — with millions more for projects in Abramson’s district. He blamed committee staffers for that “technical” error.Those "projects in Abramson's district" by the way, are special favors for Audubon and other usual suspects from the NOLA non-profit cartel.
The largest of the two New Orleans projects -- financing for exhibit upgrades at the Audubon Zoo -- is in Abramson's district. That project got a $23.2 million boost, nearly double the original cost of the project. The Louisiana Children's Museum got a 10 percent increase for the planning, design and construction of an early learning village.
Also in the bill was an increase to a Junior League of New Orleans project. That project got an 83 percent funding increase for renovations to its headquarters, annex and thrift store.
Anyway, if you read that Gambit commentary online you'll see that Neil has already responded by pasting a press release of his into the comments section. Therein, Abramson claims he voted against HB11 because amendments had "tied" it to other problematic tax increases.
An amendment tied the passage of HB 11 to a set of other tax reform measures that were not part of the Governor's tax reform package and were not adequately discussed or analyzed. The fiscal note on the tax measure that HB 11 would have been tied to would have led to a tax increase of more than $100 million. That burden could have fallen on lower-middle and middle income families. There simply was not enough information today to allow this bill to move forward."We think he's talking about Julie Stokes's "flat tax" bills. If so, he's at least correct in nominally opposing them. But the Governor had already ceded the point.
To revive the bill on Wednesday, Edwards agreed with Stokes’ plan to amend HB11 by tying its fate to three measures sponsored by her that would give voters the chance to eliminate a popular tax break in exchange for a single flat rate. (This was the version Abramson referred to afterward. The committee separately approved all three measures; they do not raise more money.)Plus, as it says, Stokes's bills passed anyway so.. again.. what was the point? Abramson's colleagues, particularly those in the Senate, are getting more and more frustrated with what JP Morrell called "antics."
"We will try to work with him because he's the chairman of the committee," Morrell said. "But my committee right now is really struggling because we are really frustrated with these antics. There's more games being played."And then there was this Advocate profile published over the weekend where we learn Abramson's "antics," at least as far as strategic absences are concerned, are actually a standard move of his.
Abramson has a history of being absent but especially on controversial matters where, had he voted in line with his Uptown New Orleans district, which strongly backed President Barack Obama in 2012 and Edwards in 2015, he risked damaging his standing with Republicans. (Obama won 62 percent of his district in 2012, and Edwards carried it with 74 percent in 2015).The profile also tells us about Abramson's football career. Neil was the quarterback of his high school team and even went on to play free safety in college. Nowadays, it seems, he just punts. Which is exactly what he does again here when asked about his future plans.
Consider this extraordinary fact: Abramson has voted on two of the 23 abortion bills tracked by the state’s dominant anti-abortion group, the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, over the past five years.
The latest developments in Baton Rouge have reignited a buzz among insiders that Abramson is positioning himself to switch parties and run for a conservative-leaning state Senate seat in 2019 as a Republican.
If so, he won’t admit to it, though he also passed up an opportunity to deny it.
One quick note about that. Neil doesn't actually have to switch parties to run for Senate. Sure, it makes more sense for most candidates to run in that district as a Republican. But suddenly switching parties just in order to do so might seem a little too transparent. It's probably enough for Abramson just to keep positioning himself as an anti-tax, ambivalent on abortion thorn in the side of the Governor. In other words, it's probably best for Neil to just keep up the same antics that got him where he is.
Which brings us to this afternoon.