Act Now, or Let Task Force Do Its Job?

May 3, 2016

Credit pbs.org

 A bill requiring all tax exemptions and credits be included in the budgeting process – letting the legislature decide how much could be spent on each annually – exposed a rift within the group that’s been pushing cuts in lieu of raising revenue.

Covington Representative John Schroder says it’s time for more legislative oversight of this money.

“We don’t know how much money we’re going to have to budget, until all that gets paid first – that $8.5 billion and growing – gets paid first.”

That’s nearly half the total revenue the state takes in, and it’s spent automatically before it ever makes it into the legislative budgeting process. Schroder says he believes that violates the state constitution.

“I would argue that every dime that comes into the state of Louisiana is supposed to be appropriated,” Schroder told the House Appropriations committee.

Members of the panel had concerns. Wasn’t this jumping the gun on the Tax Reform Task Force? Houma Republican Jerome Zeringue inquired.

“We’re asking the governor to please respect the fact there is this task force,“ Zeringue reminded the committee.

But Schroder said, “I believe the task force will come out with these recommendations.” He also explained why he feels the time to pass this bill is now.

“We have to have a plan, colleagues, before session’s done,” Schroder urged. “We have to know in the next two weeks – in concept – where we’re headed.”

The Appropriations committee is expected to send the budget bill to the full House next week, with their recommendations for fixing the expected $600-million shortfall.

Yet several members noted that the Tax Reform Task Force was Schroder’s idea.

“As a legislature, we voted on your bill that said let’s create this task force and let’s wait and see what they recommend. I really, you know, would like to see the plan,” said Tony Bacala of Prairieville, who had been one of the special session’s steadfast votes against tax hikes.

Schroder said waiting serves no purpose.

“The task force is only going to make a recommendation. End of the day, this debate still has to happen. We either decide we want to fix the structure of how we budget, or we don’t.”

In the end, only 6 of 14 House Appropriations members who have been part of the “keep cutting” coalition supported Schroder’s bill, so he withdrew it.