The legislative session begins today and brings us a fiscal session in an election year. Because it is a fiscal session, legislators are limited in the nature and numbers of bills that can be filed, so the range of topics are primarily revolving around budget and finance issues.
Speaking of the budget, we technically don’t have one at the moment as HB 1 has not yet been filed. This is due to a unique impasse based on the inability of the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) to certify a specific dollar amount available for budgeting. The REC is comprised of Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Senate President John Alario R-Westwego, Speaker of the House Taylor Barras R-New Iberia and LSU Economist Jim Richardson. The REC must be unanimous in their vote to certify the dollars available for budgeting. For the first time since its inception, the REC has been unable to achieve unanimity with Speaker Barras basing his refusal on his assertion that there is significant uncertainty concerning the impact of last year’s sales tax increase. Speaker Barras contends that the later a decision is made, the more accurate the forecast will be. The Governor, for his part, has refused to base a budget on the previous year’s REC forecast that does not include the most recent revenue expectations. The hope is that the REC will meet early next week and certify a number that will allow the Governor to submit a budget.
In the interim, Joint Budget Chairman Cameron Henry has submitted HB 105 as his version of the budget.Consequently, the mechanics of getting a budget on the table will likely occupy much of the first week of Session, and perhaps longer.
Other topics we are watching include a proposal to centralize sales tax collection, legalization of sports betting, funding for early childhood education, transportation infrastructure funding, including the possibility of a gas tax or reallocation and dedication of the recent sales tax, as well as the Governor’s proposal to increase funding for teachers to name but a few. While election year sessions have a reputation for being quiet ones, with the number of term limited members this year, coupled with the number who are running for seats in the other Chamber, it could still hold a few surprises.
We will be down in Baton Rouge periodically during the session and will endeavor to keep you up to speed throughout.
Timothy J. Magner is President of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce