Wednesday, 13 June 2018 18:30

Jan Moller interview: Louisiana Legislature, "Caucus of No" and 17 penny opera

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penny opera 5It's the Louisiana seventeen cents penny opera.

When one really considers the current debate in the Louisiana legislature starting next week in another special session to complete the budget for next year which fiscal year starts July 1, the differences between the revenues that have been approved so far compared to those that the Governor and others want to pay for government services already appropriated, is miniscule.

As has been reported, the difference between the 33% and the 4.5% of a single penny comes down to a mere seventeen cents sales tax on a one hundred dollars of a purchase.

This being the case, why doesn't the legislature and the Governor John Bel Edwards wrap things up when they open up the fiscal session part 3, on Monday?

The answer? Principle. Some of the conservatives, those who are being labeled by the Louisiana Budget Project's execxutive Director Jan Moller, and others, as the "Caucus of No" stand in the way from a budget deal. In short, they do not want to increase sales taxes beyond the 4.33 cents approved.

Yet, isn't that what their voters sent these men and women to Baton Rouge capitol to do--reduce spending, reduce taxes?  For these legislators who have been generally known as the Fiscal Hawks to feel a sense of confidence to approve this sales tax amount, educating the voters might be of necessity for the lawmakers to vote the additional amount.

On Monday morning, I discussed the issue with Moller. Here is part one and part two of that interview. We started part three with my asking him how do those who want the sales tax increase, communicate to the public, the necessity of raising the sales tax versus the loss of governmental services they might need? Why is there such a disconnect over such a minor amount of money per tax payer, relatively speaking? Here is part 3 of the Jan Moller interview:

SABLUDOWSKY: So how do we or I should say how do you convince those who don't believe that you're gonna be hurt, how do you convince them--that hey, you know you're talking about, I mean, actually we talking about maybe prisoners actually being released, or are we talking about maybe just less money and for them--I mean what what's gonna happen?

IMOLLER: 'm an optimist I think the legislature is gonna look at their options once they kind of realize what they are and are not allowed to do in this next special session, I think they're gonna get the six votes necessary to pass a revenue package that nobody is really gonna love, I mean again, the sales tax is not one of those packages, it wouldn't be my preferred way to fix the budget, but that's where we are at this point in time. I think they're gonna pass a revenue package and they're gonna go home, they're gonna realize because I think Republicans and Democrats both care about public safety. Republicans and Democrats both care about higher education and TOPS and, and they want to keep the basic operations. I mean we haven't even talked about food stamps.  But they all want to keep the basic operations of government going. I mean there is, I don't know of a single Republican who ran on the idea that we shouldn't have a food stamp program or that we should cut another hundred million dollars out of higher ed, whether public safety is not important, so I think they're gonna get the votes.  I think they're gonna be some people, you know they're already some very angry people with the legislators, some very hard feelings about how things happened, and I'll leave the politics to others, but I really think that that when the chips are down and it's time to vote, they're gonna find the additional six votes in the House, and this is a problem in the House, not the Senate.  The Senate is very clear on what they want to do and and I think you're gonna find six members to do it and if not then we'll be really in unchartered waters and--but I hope we don't get to that point and I think cooler heads will eventually prevail.

SABLUDOWSKY: Okay so I'm gonna, we have some comments and questions and by the way those people out there please if you have any questions or comments please go ahead and post them and and also please share share with others so they have an opportunity to be able to you know to watch the program.  So first, we have from Tim Morris, Tim from the Times Picayune will be on our program tomorrow-- he says hey Jan-- can't you just solve all this by legalizing marijuana? I think he's being a little facetious, isn't he?

MOLLER: We get that question a lot. I don't know if the legislature's ready to go they're just now,  if the governor were, he'd put it in the call--that's a debate for another day. But it certainly seems to help in Colorado, at least, on the revenue side.


SABLUDOWSKY: Sure okay so we have another comment here Tim Alan Matthews--does anyone understand that only government can just increase a budget or spend money without consequence?  How come when government makes a bad choice or spends unwisely that it falls on the people? When a business makes a bad choice he gets rid of programs, changes, its structure etc.  I know you don't want to budget debate but that's exactly what this is that's governor responsibility, one more sentence-- if you screw up a budget then tell the people lighten the belt forbid fix it by yourself-- I mean that seems to be the consensus of among the people in Louisiana.


MOLLER: I mean, I understand people keep wanting to debate the budget but we had the budget debate. Budget debates started in January when the governor released his executive budget, there were many many hours of hearings and testimony on the budget in the House Appropriations Committee on the House floor, in this Senate Finance Committee on the Senate floor, that was during the regular session, then we had a special session that just concluded where we repeated that budget debate, so we've had a long debate about the budget and the priorities of this state in the budget.  And it's a different budget than the budget for the current year, there are changes, there are cuts, but the legislature finally, after three different sessions and and almost six months has spoken on the budget. It's in law, the governor signed it--you can look it up--there's  it's online for everybody to look at those are the priorities of the state as decided by the people's elected representatives, the problem is that they left this below the line section of stuff that they didn't have enough money to fund, but they expressed that, again, in the budget the people's elected representatives said--"these are the things we want to fund if we have five hundred and seven mil, it's actually five hundred and twenty six million, I think is the number in there. This is what we want to fund if the revenue becomes available.  So the below-the-line section is also an expression of the legislators will, as it result that's, as it relates to the budget.  The problem, of course, the core issue here is that it takes a majority vote to pass a budget, but it takes a two-thirds majority of both House and Senate to pass the revenue--so that's why we have this weird situation where we have a budget but we just don't have enough money to fund what's in the budget, to fund the priorities of this state. 


SABLUDOWSKY: And so I think what Tim Allen Matthews was referred to and I see that he does make a comment that I was going to actually bring up--I think he's combining the revenues and the appropriations into into a nominal budget and and I think what he was really referring to was of revenues in saying, "hey look, you know we should not be raising these revenues because we just can't afford it".  I think that's, that's, he says how can a budget be approved without knowing exactly where the money comes from and so I understand what you're saying, well you we're going to, this is what we anticipate at the very most, anything less than that, then we raise the revenue for that


MOLLER: Well let's talk about revenue for a second. It does take a supermajority to raise to raise revenue. When the, and this is really about the 1 cent sales tax, there are other smaller tax bills, but the the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the clean penny of sales tax that was passed in 2016. And it was made temporary and the legislature said at the time we want to give ourselves time to do real tax reform. And the legislature created a commission to say--tell us how to reform the tax code--and that Commission did its job and they delivered a report and the legislature said, "no we don't really like this" and what the people who were against reform, in 2017 said, we're oh, well none of our constituents are complaining about the clean penny. Nobody's complaining about the extra penny of sales tax so I don't see the reason why we should do this complicated tax reform that is gonna shake things up, let's just stick with the status quo. So they punted it to this year.


This year, you know we hear a lot about the "caucus of no" who I like to call the "freeloader caucus" because that they want the things that government pays for where they're just not willing to pay for it-- but but when you look at the numbers, eighty five out of a hundred and five House members, a clear supermajority voted for at least four hundred million dollars in taxes. They didn't always agree which taxes, which is why we're here having this conversation today, but but a super majority there's--this tiny little minority, you know, a faction of the Republicans and one Democrat who just refused to vote for any extension of the sales tax, but the vast majority of House members are in favor of extending a at least part of the sales tax--thirty two out of thirty nine senators are on record as supporting at least a half of any of sales tax. 


So, so there is broad agreement among legislators except for this "freeloader group" that we need to raise some revenue. The difference between the the Lance Harris version and the Walt Leger version of sales tax between a third of a penny and a half a penny, boils down to seventeen cents on $100.  I'm not a fan of the sales tax but I submit to you that nobody is going to notice 17 cents on a $100 purchase--that is not gonna wreck a single family's budget, that is not something any of us are gonna really notice in our day-to-day lives, and but that's the difference between having a fully funded TOPS program and having a functioning criminal justice system and having money for foster kids and food assistance and and all of the social services that the Department of Children and Family Services provide. So this money is really important but when you look at it on what that affect you and I and everybody else pay sales tax, the difference between the House and Senate--and to have that the two competing visions in the House-- is really very Picayune.


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