By Robert Mann
Imagine you are leaving your house one morning for a long-scheduled dental appointment. A root canal, perhaps. As you back out of your driveway, you notice smoke rising from your roof. The house is on fire.
Do you keep your appointment? Or, do you stop and call the fire department? If your family is inside, do you go about your day? Or, do you help them escape before the flames spread?
Of course, any sane person would say, “The root canal can wait. Saving my home and family is more urgent than anything else at this moment.”
Perhaps, like me, you have noticed that while the Louisiana Legislature puts us through our biennial governmental root canal – otherwise known as the “Regular Legislative Session” – the state’s fiscal house is on fire.
Remember that $2 billion budget shortfall the state faced in the coming fiscal year? Legislators held a special session in February, but only partially solved the crisis with an array of temporary taxes and budget cuts. Because of their failure, Louisiana government still faces a $750 million shortage for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
It’s as if firefighters doused the flames on your house’s first floor but left the scene with the attic still burning.
Slightly complicating matters is the inconvenient fact that the state’s Constitution prohibits raising taxes during this year’s regular session, which ends on June 6, a mere three weeks before the new fiscal year. Does that alarm lawmakers? Apparently not. The regular session plods along as if we have all the time in the world to address our fiscal crisis.
Louisiana government is burning and lawmakers are fiddling around. To be sure, lawmakers must address important non-fiscal matters. But remember, our fiscal house is on fire. Unless lawmakers find another $750 million in cuts or tax increases before July 1, state hospitals will close and universities will be crippled. The work of the regular session, no matter how important, pales in comparison to our immediate fiscal emergency.
Given the dire situation, perhaps lawmakers should consider working longer hours, including weekends, and wrap up their current session a bit early, perhaps by late April or early May. That would give them time for another special session to fix the fiscal disaster they only partly addressed in February.
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