'Too many wrong mistakes'
As the special legislative session winds to a close this week, I'm reminded of Yogi Berra's famous quip, "It ain't over 'til it's over." Hope springs eternal.
Berra's memorable words rallied the mediocre 1973 New York Mets to win the National League pennant and three games of that year's World Series. At the end of last week, the Louisiana Legislature looked more like Berra's Mets in early September '73 — far out of the money.
Theoretically, the special session called by Gov. John Bel Edwards could still fix the fiscal mess left by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, but that's unlikely. Edwards called the session to cover the state's cumulative $3 billion deficit — $943 million in the current fiscal year (which ends June 30) and more than $2 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
If we're lucky, lawmakers will cover this year's budget hole. Next year will have to wait until next week, when the regular session begins.
The House of Representatives has stalled most of Edwards' tax proposals and insisted on deeper cuts. (Edwards proposed $160 million in cuts plus a medley of one-time budget fixes.) At its best, the House leadership pushed for long-term spending reforms and negotiated with Edwards toward that end. At its worst, it came up with few concrete proposals.
The Senate, by contrast, sided with Edwards at nearly every turn. That set the stage for a familiar showdown. In most years, the House and Senate play a cat-and-mouse game with budgets and other important bills. This time, the stakes are higher than ever.
The House spent much of the 25-day session posturing about cuts before passing a temporary one-cent sales tax hike and its own budget-cutting bill, the latter of which senators considered unworkable. (The Senate whacked the House budget-reduction bill by more than half.) House members held up additional tax measures waiting to see what level of cuts the Senate would accept, and when senators passed a watered-down version of the House cuts, it appeared to be just enough to break the logjam — somewhat.
Hopefully, lawmakers will find additional common ground before adjourning on March 9, but it's doubtful they'll cover all of next year's budget gap. Which calls to mind another Yogi-ism: "The future ain't what it used to be."
If things don't improve soon, come July 1 we may be recalling what Berra said after his New York Yankees teammates bungled the 1960 World Series: "We made too many wrong mistakes."
Because by then it really will be over.