Given the mounting concern over the state’s incoming revenue this fiscal year, several conversations at high levels have been had about a potential special session of the Louisiana Legislature. But it’s unlikely that one will actually be called, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The governor discussed Louisiana’s budget challenges, among other topics, during his recent appearance on the LaPolitics Report podcast.
Speculation about a special session has been swirling since the state discovered it had a $313-million deficit to carry over from last fiscal year — a gap that is now being addressed with mid-year budget cuts.
“Informally, it has been (discussed) both between certain members of the Legislature and myself and a little discussion with members of my administration,” Edwards said. “But as of right now, there are no plans for a special session. I think the chances are more likely than not we will not have a special session.”
Edwards did say he is concerned about incoming revenue for this fiscal year.
“The additional cuts we are going to make this year, based on the deficit last year when we closed the books, and potentially a problem in the current fiscal year where the revenue is not coming in as anticipated in the fiscal notes, are going to be really nasty cuts,” he said.
Lawmakers Meet Privately About Session
Republican lawmakers in the state House have been gathering to plan for the 2017 regular session, which is when the Legislature is expected to debate solutions to a loss of $1.5 billion in temporary tax money.
Freshmen GOP members first huddled on Thursday, Nov. 3, to hear talks from House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, the chairman of the Republican delegation in the lower chamber.
Those who attended say some voiced a need to be more respectful of each other’s opinions, and they explored ways that Republicans could work with the Edwards Administration.
But the big push behind the recent meeting of GOP freshmen was the creation of a long-term policy plan that would stretch out to 2028, when most of the newbies will be in their final term, should they be re-elected twice.
The entire delegation met the next day, on Friday, Nov. 4, to start developing the party’s full plan for the 2017 session. Harris had already started fleshing out the plan during regional meetings with lawmakers. But Nov. 4 was the first time the entire delegation gathered for planning purposes.
It was also the beginning of the build-up to the March 15 Republican retreat that will be held prior to the next regular session. That’s when, presumably, Republicans will coalesce around a final plan.
Group To Address Redistricting
Last month, President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder announced they would be leading a national redistricting reform effort as a way to battle the hold they contend Republicans have on the remapping process in U.S. states.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years. It involves the redrawing of district lines for elections based on population changes recorded by the U.S. Census.
To piggyback on the drive by national Democrats, New Orleans attorney Matt Bailey has created a group called Fair Districts Louisiana to bring the debate to the Bayou State.
That effort is currently confined to Facebook. But more announcements are expected.
Chemical Association Has New Head
The Louisiana Chemical Assoc. and Louisiana Chemical Industry Alliance recently announced the appointment of Greg Bowser as president of the two organizations.
In assuming his new role, Bowser, a former LSU defensive lineman, becomes the first African-American to lead a major Louisiana statewide business trade association.
Bowser replaces Dan Borné, who is retiring after serving 28 years as head of the associations.
Bowser moves up to the presidency of the organizations after serving as executive vice president for LCA and LCIA since 2011. He joined the organizations in 1991 and has directed their governmental affairs activities.
State Budget Hearings Slated
Eager to get a jump start on finding savings for the 2017-18 fiscal year, the House Appropriations Committee is planning a set of meetings for the first two weeks of December to begin reviewing agency budgets.
Department heads recently received a letter from the committee asking for a breakdown of how many employees have been hired and fired since the beginning of the current fiscal year; how many raises have been granted; and how many services have been reduced.
The thinking among some conservatives on the committee is that most departments received funding for this fiscal year that was well below what was requested, and that the first three months of 2017 should offer a guide for how that has played out. If departments and agencies have been delivering on their core objects with smaller budgets, that might color the thinking of the committee during next year’s session.
Each year, the Appropriations Committee is the first step in the legislative process for the administration’s budget proposal.
Lawmakers made plans for the budget reviews in mid-October, before another set of letters went out telling departments and universities that as much as a 10-percent mid-year reduction may be needed to address a $313-million deficit from this fiscal year.
The December hearings, which could stretch into 2017 depending on how things go, will be overseen by the entire Appropriations Committee. The sub-committee process will not be used.
The entire House membership is being invited to the hearings. Representatives not serving on the committee will be allowed to ask questions.
Biggest Electorate Yet
The Nov. 8 election was the first ballot in Louisiana history for which more than three million people were eligible to vote, according to Meg Casper, press secretary for Secretary of State Tom Schedler.
Compared to a year ago, there was an overall increase of 61,424 registrations.
Some new trends bubbled to the surface. For example, after several years of being one of the fastest growing segments of the electorate, the number of non-party voters increased by only 21,211. That category was outstripped this election cycle by the growth among Republicans, who added 26,425 new voters. Democrats saw an increase of 13,788.
The boost in Republican registration is being credited in part to Louisiana’s closed presidential primary earlier this year. A few candidates, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, put considerable resources into a registration push, and a number of conservative voters may have signed up to participate due to the popularity of Donald Trump.
The secretary of state’s office saw its biggest jump in September and October, with more than 61,400 voters being added to the rolls — about 30,000 each month.
The most significant push came from Facebook, which ran internal ads to get voters registered between Sept. 20-27 for National Voter Registration Month. That drive from the social media giant resulted in 21,704 registrations.
The largest growth area across the board was with new voters aged 18-34.
Scalise In Clinton Email Leak
The latest avalanche of emails connected to Hillary Clinton and made public by WikiLeaks includes one missive that has references to U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Jefferson Parish.
The email refers to an amendment sponsored by Scalise in 2011 to get rid of some of the so-called czars being appointed by President Barack Obama for things like climate change and health reform. At the time, Scalise’s team referred to it as the “Sack the Czars” amendment.
In the email, Clinton, through an intermediary, asks how the amendment might effect some “special envoys.”
It’s far from scandalous and barely notable, but Scalise boosters have jokingly pointed out that appearing in a political email leak — in this political environment — means the majority whip has finally made the big time.
LMA Hires New Director
After three years as executive director of the Louisiana Municipal Assoc., former Gretna mayor Ronnie Harris has stepped down from the position. And the influential advocacy group is now working with a temporary replacement. LMA’s executive board recently selected governmental affairs director John Gallagher to fill the position of interim executive director.
Applications for the full-time gig have already been filed with the LMA. Interviews are expected to be completed by Dec. 2. The three final candidates will then be interviewed, and the new executive director will be chosen by the board on Dec. 13.
The association is in part the lobbying arm of Louisiana’s municipal governments. But it also offers continuing education to elected officials and resources for better government management.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.