Covering the Capitol: An Embarrassment of Riches
[Updated: I omitted someone I shouldn’t have, folks. See the top of the list. And contact me if there are others that should be listed here.]
If anything good can be said of the legislative action in Baton Rouge this year, it’s that Louisiana has some great reporters doing impressive work covering the capitol. I’ve enjoyed engaging them on social media, and I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting many of them. I want to highlight my favorites while teeing up where everything stands as the 2016 regular session gets rolling today.
Sue Lincoln of WRKF’s Capitol Access is a transplant from “the other L.A.” and a veteran reporter. With 25 years of Louisiana experience under her belt, she deftly navigates our colorful politics and delivers informative updates via the Louisiana Radio Network, the Southern Education Desk, and Louisiana Public Radio – where I am lucky enough to catch her reports on WWNO many mornings. From this morning’s dispatch:
Governor John Bel Edwards opened the 2016 regular legislative session with an apology to the people of the state, because he cannot tell us how deep in the hole we still are.
“For the current year, it’s at least $30-million — perhaps as much as $60 million,” Edwards said. “For the next fiscal year, our deficit’s somewhere in the $800-million range. We just don’t know.”
Greg Hilburn of the Monroe News-Star is a Louisiana Tech graduate whose father Wiley Hilburn was a fixture in Louisiana journalism for decades as a noted columnist and head of the Tech journalism department. Lately, he’s been working hard covering local flooding, and you can read all his recent articles here. Here’s something from one of his last pieces of the special session:
Just when it seemed like lawmakers were moving closer to a compromise that might close Louisiana’s midyear budget gap, the special legislative session went sideways with House Republicans in full revolt late Monday night.
Follow him on Twitter at @GregHilburn1.
Elizabeth Crisp of the Baton Rouge Advocate is a Mississippi native. She’s worked at the Clarion-Ledger, USA Today, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She’s married to Advocate sports writer Ross Dellenger who was a contemporary at Mississippi State. She wrote a good summary of the special session along with Tyler Bridges (featured below).
In a last-minute flurry of legislative action Wednesday, state lawmakers ended a 25-day special session by filling nearly all of the immediate budget shortfall, but they left themselves with the prospect of having to make painful cuts later this year in government programs that are popular with the public. …
To end the state’s biggest budget deficit in nearly 30 years, folks in Louisiana will pay more to smoke, to rent cars, to stay at short-term rentals, to make consumer purchases and to drink beer, wine and liquor. Businesses will pay more for their utilities and will lose a variety of other tax breaks.
Jeremy Alford, whose work with LaPolitics.com I previously featured, is a syndicated columnist and freelance writer who, you may not know, has been contributing to Country Roads magazine since 2003. He also occasionally pens articles for the New York Times, including this one just last week.
The road to fiscal uncertainty has been a long one in Louisiana, reaching back to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina created a spike in tax collections as a result of recovery spending. Coupled with peak oil prices a few years later, Louisiana was so flush with cash that lawmakers cut income taxes and increased credits and exemptions for business.
With the Katrina money gone and the economy worsening, spending started to outstrip tax collections over the past eight years as structural budget problems surfaced under Gov. Bobby Jindal. Mr. Jindal refused to raise taxes, and his administration and the Legislature privatized government services, sold state assets, redirected money from various funds and used pockets of one-time money for recurring expenses.
He married a Baton Rouge girl, and they have two kids. Learn everything else you need to know about him at LaPolitics.com.
A graduate of Brown and Columbia, Stephanie Grace has been working in Louisiana for about 22 years, including 17 years at the Times-Picayune and a short stint at Gambit Weekly. She’s now the Advocate’s principal political columnist whose unique take on the Louisiana circus is always insightful and enjoyable. Her latest piece on the special session was no different.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when the special legislative session’s frantic conclusion crossed the line between haphazard governance and full-on farce.
Was it when the Senate, desperately trying to make order of what the House was sending over in the session’s final hour, had to rescind an amendment it had “inadvertently” tacked onto the wrong bill?
When House-Senate conference committees were thrown together at the last moment, a sign that negotiations between the two chambers were going down to the wire?
When a seasoned lawmaker, former Senate Finance Committee Chair Jack Donahue, made the modest suggestion that he’d like to understand the amendments he was voting on?
When, with just minutes to go, mass confusion broke out over whether lawmakers were about to approve the one-penny sales tax increase they’d settled upon or the even higher figure that was somehow listed on the bill’s official summary?
Follow her on Twitter at @StephGraceNola.
New Orleans’ Clancy Dubos doesn’t exactly fit the same mold as the other folks mentioned here. He’s a political commentator as well as a practicing attorney. He and his wife Margo own Gambit Weekly where he serves as political editor and columnist. Clancy treated us to his spicy take on the special session after which he declared there was “Nothin’ but Loozas.”
One special interest group described the frenetic final hour of the just-ended special legislative session as “fast-and-furious,” which was certainly accurate as regards the session’s closing minutes. However, a better summary of the 25-day session would be “frustrating.” As the late John Maginnis often observed, lawmakers could have done less, but they ran out of time.
Follow him on Twitter at @ClancyGambit.
Julia O’Donoghue has only been on the ground in Louisiana for about two and a half years, but she has already cemented her place in the bayou journosphere (I’m allowed to make up new words here). The D.C. native is the political reporter for Nola.com | The Times-Picayune and this weekend published a succinct look at where the legislature stands heading into the regular session.
Several lawmakers expect to enter the three month “regular” session next week with a cloud hanging over them from the special session that ended Wednesday.
Legislators failed to resolve the financial deficit for this budget cycle or the next one over the past month. The hole for the fiscal cycle starting July 1 is estimated to be as much as $800 million and will make piecing together the next state budget during the regular session very difficult.
Lawmakers have to contend with such a large shortfall because they couldn’t agree on a strategy for closing the budget gap before the special session ended. The protracted standoff in the Legislature over the spending cuts and taxes during the special session frayed some relationships. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, even accused House leaders of “playing games,” though he said he is ready to put the disagreements behind him.
“Let’s give each other a hug and move on,” he said.
Tyler Bridges is an award-winning journalist, a native of Palo Alto, CA, and author of two books on Louisiana politics. He and I met a couple of years ago as members of the 2014 class of Leadership Louisiana. He splits his time between New Orleans and Lima, Peru, where his wife Cecilia serves in the country’s congress and is a former Olympic volleyball player (and a quite famous one, at that). He’s spending some time in Baton Rouge these days doing excellent work for The Advocate.
Five days after the special session ended, Louisiana lawmakers reconvene Monday for the 85-day regular session facing the same unappetizing choices on the budget that they ducked during the special session.
During the 25-day special session that ended Wednesday, legislators had three tasks: close a $900 million or so immediate budget deficit, sharply narrow a $2 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year and reform the state’s tax system.
They mostly whiffed on each one.
Legislators were neither willing to cut spending enough, nor raise taxes enough nor eliminate the long list of tax breaks that favor one politically connected business or industry over another.
Of the $900 million or so immediate gap they faced, they left perhaps a $50 million hole. Of the $2 billion gap for next year, they left an estimated $800 million shortfall, and they only temporarily eliminated a few dozen of the 400 tax breaks on the books.
Last but not least, Melinda Deslatte is a native of LaPlace and has spent her entire career with the Associated Press including over 15 years working in Louisiana. The first and last paragraphs of her recent piece on the Louisiana legislature demonstrate well her incisive journalistic abilities.
Sloppy and incomplete. If only a few words could sum up the just-ended special legislative session, those would suffice. …
For years, Louisiana’s leaders have refused to match the state’s spending to its yearly income by either increasing taxes or deeply cutting spending. Neither idea has gained traction. In the special session, lawmakers again delayed on making those long-term decisions.