WRKF’s Kelly Connelly has been following every twist and turn over the past 2 months. News Director Amy Jeffries spoke with Kelly about her time covering the session.
AMY JEFFERIES: So with all of the victorious hooting and hollering, what did the legislature actually accomplish?
KELLY CONNELLY: All of the celebration was for the bipartisan budget deal that had something for everybody, but I’m sure that everyone also had some complaints. We saw more money to privatize hospitals, more money for higher ed and an increase in elementary and secondary education spending.
The most remarkable thing was probably the budget reforms that a group of legislators called the fiscal hawks got through. They’re not very keen on some of the “one-time” funding sources that the governor sometimes uses in his executive budget proposals.
JEFFERIES: And he did that this time when the budget proposal originated.
CONNELLY: There was half a billion in it — but they’re going to have to do it all again next year.
JEFFERIES: They’re going to have to negotiate and come back to the table and come up with another again next year. So why is that? What are the things that they’re going to have to hash out for the first time or rehash again next year?
CONNELLY: Well, they’ll have to rehash it all again next year. Behind the fiscal hawks ideas about cutting out one-time funding — that inherently makes the budget more austere. Because there’s a pool of money that we’re not using.
Everybody wants to spend money on higher education and health care, you know? Who wouldn’t? But no body wants to raise taxes. So the state income doesn’t really align with how much we want to spend.
JEFFERIES: Right so, a couple of months ago Gov. Bobby Jindal had introduced a plan to reform the state’s tax structure and he could have pitched that as a way to fix the state’s income, but he didn’t do that, he actually framed it in terms of economic growth, but maybe next time they come back and use tax reform, income tax reform as a way to fix the budget, the revenue problem?
CONNELLY: He wanted to eliminate the income tax and replace that with a number of income streams one of them being the sales tax, in large part being the sales tax, which is a much more stable source of income for the state mathematically. But at the same time package included cutting tax exemptions for businesses.
We saw a little bit of reining in of tax exemptions this session, the alternative fuel credit, solar panels, but the Movie Tax Credit, which was a part of the governor’s tax package, reining it in a little, that bill died in Senate Finance.
When he was pitching this holistic package he could say, “It’s not a tax increase,” because you could step back and look at it as a whole, “the state’s not getting more income than it was before,” but that’s exactly what they were trying to do.
The way it works, businesses owe the state money, taxes, the state says, “you don’t necessarily have to owe, pay all of these taxes, so you have more money to invest and grow,” but that tax is still in place, it never goes away, it’s a reprieve.
JEFFERIES: So the Governor kind of changed his mind on whether these tax exemptions and credits were a good idea. But he did stand firm on his objection to the federal Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act, what many are now referring to simply as Obamacare.
CONNELLY: The portion of the law that gives the state the option of expanding health care for the uninsured for everyone that makes under 138 percent of the poverty line. The feds would have picked up the tab for the first three years, and it would have dropped off after that.
It ultimately didn’t get passed, at the protest of Republicans that were uncertain about the feds’ dedication to hospital spending after our mid-year budget cuts this year. Because of the decrease in the federal spending on hospitals.
But it’s likely to come up again next year. Because as the feds more on hospitals in this mechanism, other mechanisms that they use to fund hospitals are going to decrease and that could be a problem for the budget ultimately.
JEFFERIES: No tax reform. No Medicaid Expansion this time. But the House really did put on a show of independence when democrats and republican fiscal hawks came together for the budget deal. Will that alliance between the democrats and the fiscal hawks, do you think that’ll stick together for the next session?
CONNELLY: Well, this was my first session in Louisiana to cover, and I really haven’t seen the year-after-year cycle of relationships in the House. The fiscal hawks have shown amazing growth over the past five years, and I think that their relationship with the democrats is likely to hold over spending, but there are other points of contention between the two that they butt heads on, like back to Medicaid.
The chairman of the Republican delegation and the black caucus sit on opposite sides of the committee on health and welfare, and for six hours they debated a bill that would expand medicaid and butted heads the entire time. The committee meeting — usually committee meetings are pretty reserved, but this one, safe to say it got heated.
JEFFERIES: And that was very sort of traditional partisanship that you seem to be witnessing.
CONNELLY: Right, but, with the budget deals, Lance Harris and Katrina Jackson are going to each others desks and throwing their arms around each other’s shoulders and laughing, and they had to get stuff done. They — no one liked it — the budget that the governor sent them and this alliance between the parties is a move of legislative independence that I think is likely to stick.
JEFFERIES: Well Kelly Connelly, thanks for all of your reporting this session on Capitol Access.