Here's a political riddle worthy of a Las Vegas morning line: Will Gov. John Bel Edwards' seventh special legislative session end with a solution to the state's "fiscal cliff" — or will we see another example of mutually assured destruction?
History portends the latter, but it doesn't have to be that way.
History matters. It's a shame so many people in positions of responsibility — from voters to lawmakers — ignore it so often. In the case of the governor and the House Republicans who are determined to deny him a "win" at all costs (including great costs to Louisiana citizens), both sides should learn from their mistakes.
In the first special session of 2018, Edwards sought too much revenue. It's possible he asked for a higher amount to leave room for negotiation, but his adversaries used it against him to great effect. For their part, the House GOP leadership initially was OK with extending half of the expiring one-penny sales tax — but in the most recent session, after Edwards came down to a half-penny, they blindly held firm at just one-third of a penny. Then they falsely accused the governor of failing to compromise.
As many have noted, the difference between a half-penny and a third of a penny is a mere 17 cents on a $100 purchase. That same difference could fully fund TOPS scholarships and higher education, which makes the "Caucus of No" seem all the more irresponsible and ideologically hidebound.
Now let's look forward. If the upcoming special session is to end well, both sides need to get past partisan one-upmanship and focus on solving the problem. A good place to start is this: Instead of blaming each other for the problem not getting solved, why not fight over who gets credit for solving the problem? That would make citizens the real winners.
How might they do that?
Perhaps reframing the threshold revenue question is in order. Instead of arguing over a third versus a half a penny, begin a civil discussion of how much money the state actually needs to meet its obligations.
Once a target figure is agreed upon, discuss how best to achieve that goal. There are many ways to raise revenue. It doesn't have to come down to portions of a sales tax penny. Both sides know this, but they have to put petty, partisan differences aside and put citizens' interests first.
Meanwhile, Edwards has begun using his veto pen. So far his vetoes have targeted his House adversaries — Speaker Taylor Barras, GOP Delegation Chairman Lance Harris, Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, and a handful of others.
The governor's message is clear: Those who yearn for smaller government will see it up close — in their own districts.
In past years, that was how governors brought errant legislators to heel. In today's volatile environment, it's unclear if that tactic still works. On one hand, lawmakers who pushed for deep cuts left the governor no alternative; they remain stuck on one-third of a penny and can't identify specific cuts. On the other hand, the vetoes up the ante — and the temperature.
In the absence of mutual trust and comity, mutually assured destruction remains a probable outcome.