‘LaPolitics’: Regular session may be over, but the drama continues

After spending the better part of five months in session—from organizational and redistricting to crime and regular—lawmakers, lobbyists, staffers, reporters, activists, hangers-on and rouges of all stripes have been released from the Tall Building that anchors Capitoland.

If this isn’t your first go-around in Louisiana politics, then you already know the regular session didn’t actually end with sine die. The politics and policies will live on and be waiting for us next week and next month and for the foreseeable future.

The largest looming question involves whether Gov. Jeff Landry, the House and GOP donor class get their constitutional convention. Without support from the Senate, which could have passed a resolution to lay the groundwork, the chances seem unlikely.

Should that storyline hold, and lawmakers decide not to hold a constitutional convention, the stakes for the 2025 regular session could climb exponentially—that is, unless senators decide to hold a different kind of fall special session, to pass a package of proposed amendments to mirror the output of a constitutional convention. There’s an appetite for such an approach among senators, but at this hour no clear path forward has been identified.

Short of such an extraordinary session, next year’s fiscal-in-nature regular session could replace the proposed convention as the only vehicle the Landry administration and Legislature have to address serious spending and revenue issues. How to attack those issues through planning and preparation will become an immediate focus in Capitoland, and in some respects that multifaceted operation has already commenced.

On the House side, the Ways and Means Committee will soon undertake a study of the state’s tax structure, with findings and recommendations due prior to the 2025 regular session. Revenue Secretary Richard Nelson is also said to be hard at work carving away at ideas and Sen. Mike Reese, among others, see an opportunity for the Louisiana Tax Institute to chip in.

Lawmakers already know they will face an estimated $460 million shortfall next year as a temporary state sales tax expires. There are lofty ideas being floated, like eliminating income taxes and giving attention to subjects like the inventory tax and corporate franchise tax. The wish lists of the major players are extensive, from exemptions to credits.

In the meantime, the bills passed by lawmakers during the regular session will begin to reshape our state government.

For starters, the Landry administration will put its stamp on how Louisiana manages its natural resources by changing the makeup of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s board and implementing internal changes at the Department of Energy and Natural Resources. DENR Secretary Tyler Gray will help oversee the Natural Resources Steering Commission, which meets for the first time on June 18 to discuss further changes at DENR, CPRA and a couple of related offices.

Senate Bill 494 by Senate Commerce Chair Beth Mizell also sets the stage for changes at Louisiana Economic Development by establishing the Louisiana Economic Development Partnership. It’s a permanent 11-member advisory committee, with nine members appointed by the governor, tasked with crafting a strategic plan for the department. Plus, an internal reorganization at LED is ongoing and there are plans for at least three new executive-level positions: chief business development officer, chief economic competitiveness officer and chief innovation officer. 

The Louisiana Coalition to Fix Our Roads, an advocacy group of contractors and others, is also in the process of selecting a national consulting firm to assess the Department of Transportation and Development, at Landry’s request. Specific recommendations about departmental changes are expected.

Then there’s Landry, who will exit the 2024 regular session as the most powerful Louisiana governor in modern history—on paper, at least, for now.

Comparisons of Landry to late Gov. Huey P. Long, who lost his own bid for a constitutional convention, are apt, according to Albert Samuels, a political science professor and department head at Southern University. Perhaps the only chief executive since Long who might have rivaled Landry’s sway is Edwin Edwards during his first two terms in the 1970s, he said, when EWE pulled off a convention.

The lack of momentum for a constitutional convention might be a “wake-up call” that everyone won’t automatically fall in line, Samuels says, but there’s still an unmistakable political wind at Landry’s back.

No one can accuse Landry of having a poor session. He will soon make scores of changes to boards and commissions to which he previously had no immediate access. He has also gained more control over the Ethics Board than any other governor, all thanks to the Louisiana Legislature.

Of course, what Landry ultimately does with his newfound power and reshaped government is the next step we’re all waiting to see.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.