While campaign songs may be “so last century”, many of the same issues that prompted Huey Long to pen “Every Man a King” still plague Louisiana more than 80 years later. A line in the song says, “There’s enough for all people to share,” yet Louisiana’s on-going budget problems contradict that sentiment. For the men who would be king -- the candidates for governor – the state’s budget problems dwarf everything else.
“The budget is going to be the first, second and third topics for the next governor to deal with,” Louisiana Budget Project director Jan Moller says, noting last year’s budget, the current budget, and next year’s budget are all in the red.
“I’ve proposed looking at all of these things in a special session immediately after I’m sworn in as governor,” David Vitter has said repeatedly.
The other major gubernatorial candidates -- Scott Angelle, John Bel Edwards and Jay Dardenne -- have also promised to call a special session first thing, if elected.
“We’ve got to have a special session. There’s no question about that,” Dardenne has said, noting, “Next year’s a general session. You can’t deal with these matters unless you have a special session.”
Edwards says, “We have to have a structural fix to the budget, otherwise, every priority for the state of Louisiana – whether it’s higher education, K-12, health care, mental health, transportation infrastructure – it’s all at risk.”
Moller says that initial special session is going to require great discipline --from the governor and lawmakers.
“A special session is limited in time and scope. The governor determines which issues go into the special session call, and only those issues can be considered. It’s going to be a very short, very focused session.”
Fixing the budgetary problems left behind by the Jindal administration and alleviating projected shortfalls for the term of the new governor’s administration will require structural changes, Moller states.
“That’s where the heavy lifting comes in, because structural changes require changing the tax code. And that’s going to require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate.”
That could be a larger hurdle that it would first appear to be with a new legislature. Yet nearly half of all lawmakers – 20 of 39 state senators and 51 of 105 state representatives – were re-elected without opposition.
Still, Moller says, that initial special session is the state’s – and the new governor’s – best hope to fix things.
“The best chance of getting substantive things done about our budget and tax structure is going to be in those early few weeks, when the governor is at the peak of his power.”