Since the collapse of the recent special session, many have called any attempt to get state lawmakers to fix Louisiana's fiscal problems "Groundhog Day." It's a reference to the movie in which a misanthropic character played by Bill Murray keeps waking up in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on Feb. 2 until he finally gets his act together.
With lawmakers going back into session a mere week after the special session's acrimonious implosion, it appears the latest Bayou State Groundhog Day is March 12. This time, however, legislators will be constitutionally barred from considering revenue-raising bills, at least until they convene for yet another Groundhog Day — um, I mean special session — in late May or early June.
How many Groundhog Days can Louisiana voters tolerate?
A lot, apparently. I've seen this legislative movie many times. The plot never changes. The annual session that begins this week is the second act in a three-act script. The first act was the special session, the failure of which was predetermined by House Republicans. As several of their own members have admitted, many of them didn't really want to solve the state's fiscal problems because they feared it would somehow make Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, look good.
That logic, if one could call it that, makes one wonder how some of them got past the fifth grade. For the benefit of our lawmakers, let's go over this one more time: If legislators solve Louisiana's structural deficits, they (not necessarily the governor) will look good. Conversely, when legislators fail to address the deficit, they (not the governor) look bad.
Constitutionally, the governor can only propose budgets and taxes. Lawmakers must actually provide for the state's fiscal stability. Edwards has suggested several ways to make revenues match the cost of vital services such as public hospitals and universities, and the popular TOPS college scholarship program. For their part, a majority of our lawmakers stubbornly refuse to fix what most of them broke under Bobby Jindal's "leadership and crisis" tenure. Edwards thus had to propose a "doomsday" budget that's nearly $1 billion short.
As Act 2 unfolds, we'll see lots of teeth-gnashing among those who will feel the impact of draconian cuts — and equal though far less sincere amounts of grandstanding by the "cut our way to prosperity" crowd — from a budget (if one is adopted) that few can stomach. That will set the stage for the third act: the next special session.
The climax of this story will come in the final hours of that special session, when House Republicans and members of the Legislative Black Caucus square off in a game of budgetary chicken. The GOP will want a sales tax-based solution, while the caucus will favor an income tax-heavy fix.
That's the same standoff that sucked the air out of the last special session, which is why it will feel like Groundhog Day all over again.
In the movie, Bill Murray's character eventually turned his life around. Too bad our legislators can't learn to do likewise for Louisiana. The rest of us are tired of constantly waking up to the same dreary mess.