Rep. Johnson ‘stunned and baffled’ by recent special session

If the state budget were a bucket, it wouldn’t hold water -- because it has a $648 million hole in it.

State Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) was still “stunned and baffled by what I saw” in the last desperate minutes of the special session last Monday.

“There is no way we as a state can function under this budget,” Johnson said. “We are being forced to go into a third special session” to address the budget deficit.

Johnson places the blame squarely on a small number of House members he calls “the Group of No.”

“The Senate handled the issue in three days,” Johnson said. “The House has had, what, six legislative sessions to address this issue.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he would call the Legislature back into special session later this month, but as of press time Thursday he had not issued that call. The state’s budget year begins July 1.

Johnson said legislators “should probably not accept their per diem for the special session.”

Returning the daily stipend for the special session would reduce the cost for the special session required because legislators couldn’t fix the budget deficit.

Johnson said the Acadiana Center for Youth juvenile detention facility is in the budget, but “we have a big gap in funding” that might affect its ability to open.

“I believe the $12 million allocated to open the doors will be approved in the special session,” he added.

LAST MINUTE DRAMA

The special session ended with some last minute drama.

Johnson said the Senate adopted the budget and the revenue-producing actions to fund it. The House adopted the budget but not the revenue measures.

The Legislature approved temporary taxes two years ago to address a massive deficit Edwards inherited from GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal.

A tax-reform committee came up with several measures to restructure the state’s tax system.

Like a driver who sees the “Bridge Out Ahead” signs several miles in advance, but chooses to ignore the signs and speed on, the Legislature-driven vehicle car is reaching the bridge on July 1.

An emergency pontoon bridge was scuttled late Monday (June 4).

Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), head of the House Republican Caucus, proposed a bill that would have renewed .3 percent of the expiring 1-cent sales tax, leaving 4.3 percent of state sales tax revenue in the budget. That bill received 36 “yes” votes.

Johnson said that proposal would not have provided enough to adequately fund the budget.

Senate and House Democrats worked on a bill authored by Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) that would have provided 4.5 cents of state sales tax.

“State residents would still have seen their sales taxes go down by a half-cent,” Johnson said. “We are looking at taxpayers paying about $20-$40 more per year to fully fund the TOPS scholarship, education, universities, and other programs. I believe citizens of Louisiana are willing to do that.” The Leger bill received 64 votes, but needed 70 to be adopted.

What happened next is what Johnson said ranks among the worst displays of personal politics he has ever seen in the Legislature.

“RAN THE CLOCK”

When a bipartisan group of representatives called for a re-vote on Leger’s bill, House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), Harris and Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) “ran the clock” until the session had to adjourn just past midnight.

There was a chorus of boos and hollered comments as the men refused to let the measure come back up for a vote.

Johnson believes the measure would have passed on the re-vote.

“Of course, those who voted against it should have voted right when they had a chance,” Johnson said, “but what these men did did not make sense.”

Edwards’ description was a bit stronger.

“It is a sad day for the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said at a press conference just after the session adjourned this past Monday. “You saw a minority in the House prove that politics takes priority over people. Our state deserves better than what we saw tonight.”

Johnson said there is talk of ousting the “Group of No” from their leadership positions because of their actions during the special session.

“The members of this small group in the House are just so unreasonable,” Johnson said. “Hopefully they will go home for a few days and learn a lesson from their constituents who are upset by their actions.”

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