By Stephen Waguespack
The school year has ended and children across Louisiana are beginning to enjoy their summer break. My three boys each have their different opinions on the best way to do so.
My oldest is soon heading off to camp and my middle one has several different lessons lined up to keep him busy with fun activities. My youngest doesn’t yet have many plans and seems to like it that way. I asked him the other day what he wanted to do this summer and after rattling off a few options, he finally said, “Dad, I think I just want to chill-ax this summer.”
I think he is on to something.
The thought of just chilling out and relaxing (which I can only assume is the definition of “chill-ax”) sounds good to me too. And, if recent behavior in the Louisiana Legislature is any indication, I think everyone involved in government and the media needs to chill-ax soon too.
Consider yourself lucky if you haven’t been paying attention to the governor’s second legislative special session to raise taxes this year, and even more lucky if you have not been forced to physically be in the Capitol to witness it in person.
The 2016 Louisiana Legislature has been in session for more consecutive days than any other Legislature in Louisiana history. Throughout these five months, the budget and tax issues tackled have been divisive and controversial. These five months have felt more like five years. The nerves are getting frayed and the decorum is rapidly diminishing to an unproductive level. Good people are starting to act out of character and sharp minds are starting to show the signs of fatigue.
The demand from the administration for yet another round of new taxes no matter the cost to the economy or taxpayers is at a fever pitch. Despite a state budget that currently stands roughly $2 billion larger and containing more federal AND state dollars than last year, the articles detailing unsustainable deficits and harmful consequences flow uncontrollably out of the building.
The debates in committee or on the House and Senate floor over these new taxes don’t ever really discuss the impact it will have on Louisiana’s economy, which has lost 16,000 jobs over the last year. The only discussion given any value in the Capitol or in the headlines is the administration’s desire for more money.
When is the last time you read an article about how best to stop job losses, contain government spending, reform government entitlements or scrutinize government budget practices? In contrast, how many articles have you read lately preaching that government needs more money and anyone standing in the way of that is acting as a menace to society? I think you get the point.
Anyone that dares to make an argument for good tax policy to make Louisiana economically competitive is at best ignored, and at worst, mocked. Personal attacks of one’s character, credibility, intentions or morals are a dime a dozen during legislative debates on bills and the majority of press coverage that documents these important political discussions.
The administration’s goal is simply to raise billions of dollars in new taxes to fund government growth regardless of cost or impact. Rather than defending the merits of these proposals, their approach is to downplay the specifics of the tax bills, focus exclusively on the new dollars they will generate for government, and blame a host of other characters for any challenges faced by the state.
If a stakeholder or legislator opposes any tax increase, they are unfairly labeled as an opponent to a litany of sympathetic and worthwhile causes ranging from TOPS, Now Waivers, higher education, K-12 education, state parks and museums, health care delivery, and even the monitoring of water systems and restaurants.
The tensions that accompany several consecutive months of contentious debates over how best to address Louisiana’s budget challenge are starting to boil over. Legislators have been away from their families and jobs for months and given little direction by the administration besides countless “menus of options” filled with undesirable choices that are not fully fleshed out.
Last week, the Ways and Means Committee and House floor passed more than $200 million in revenue deemed fairly noncontroversial. That is plenty to plug the shortfall stated by the administration for the hospital partnership agreements and TOPS.
It’s soon time for the Legislature to adjourn and go back home to recharge their drained batteries. It has been a long year already and taxpayers cannot afford much more of it. The continuous session after session to raise tax after tax must end. The administration could also use the time to spend the rest of the year pushing their agencies to be more efficient and developing strong policies to reform Louisiana’s tax code next year that they can actually stand for and defend on the merits.
A little time off will do everyone some good. It’s time for everyone to just chill-ax.