Capitol Views: Lawmakers preparing for more fiscal work in 2016

Lawmakers only can create new taxes or increase them in odd-numbered years, leaving even-numbered years to host their regular sessions. But a constitutional amendment by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, would move their fiscal sessions, like the one being held now, to even-numbered years instead.

That means a hectic, 60-day session dragging the Capitol through the mud could be repeated again next year. It may also have the effect of rendering somewhat pointless a blanket campaign promise from all of the candidates for governor to hold a special session in 2016 after being elected to address the budget and tax code.

The flip-flop in Ritchie’s HB 189 was approved without objection by the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee today. While the session will hopefully end with a balanced budget, the Washington Parish lawmaker said, it’s unlikely to address the structural revenue problems plaguing the state.

“I think from watching this session here that we won’t be able to cure all of our problems,” Ritchie said. “I think we should continue this session next year, as hard as it might be.”

Making the switch would also take lawmakers off the hook for having to vote on taxes just months before they face re-election, a specter that arguably is driving this session as much as any other factor.

“When you have an election seven months down the road, it’s tough to make those decisions,” Ritchie added.

If approved by the House and Senate, Ritchie’s constitutional amendment next would face voters on the Oct. 24 ballot.

So would HB 518 by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, which likewise was advanced to the House floor by the committee today. This constitutional amendment would define more broadly what kind of tax and revenue bills can be filed in a fiscal session.

Stokes said she filed a set of bills this year she thought were fiscal bills, but were deemed to be general in nature. There are limits on how many fiscal, local and general nature bills lawmakers can introduce, and Stokes argued that the categories should be better defined.

—Two tax increases in the name of better roads and highways were passed by the House Ways and Means Committee today. It was a shot in the arm for transportation advocates after another set of key bills failed to move on the Senate side Monday.

House Transportation Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, advanced her HB 777 to increase the state gasoline tax by 10 cents. Her HB 778 to impose a one-penny state sales and use tax also is headed to the House floor. Both would expire after 10 years.

Her overriding goal is to address a $12 billion project backlog at the Department of Transportation and Development. The future is sketchy for St. Germain’s bills, especially as lawmakers start jockeying to prop up their own projects.

On Monday, Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, saw his attempt to move more money into the state’s transportation trust fund—and to add more protections to it—fail in a vote that also doesn’t bode well for St. Germain’s House bills.

Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. He reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

There are no comments. Click to add your thoughts!