Three thwacks of the gavel called the 2017 fiscal legislative session to order Monday. And as is customary, the governor addressed the House and Senate jointly. But as Governor John Bel Edwards laid out a massive agenda -- including criminal justice reform and comprehensive tax reform -- he also warned lawmakers this would not be a business-as-usual session.
“In times like these, nobody can be satisfied with merely naming highways and creating prestige license plates,” the governor cautioned.
In his state-of-the-state address, Edwards pointedly confronted his opposition, including House Republican Caucus chair Lance Harris, who has said his group has a plan to deal with the fiscal issues of the state, but “I never said we’d release it to the public.”
“We all want lower taxes and a more efficient state government, but we have seen very little constructive input and practically no constructive action,” Edwards said. “If there’s a better idea out there, let’s see it. Don’t hide it. Let’s debate.”
He also spoke directly to those members who have said they will only vote for a cuts-based approach.
“If you take a cut-only approach, exactly what is it you intend to cut?” Edwards asked. “What college or hospital do you want to close? What road in your district that you’d rather not see built or repaved? And then vote for those cuts. I can respect that. What I cannot respect is voting no on everything without offering your own proposal.”
That got applause from a number of lawmakers, as did the governor’s exhortations to work together and to not “rely on political sound bytes.”
With $1.3-billion in temporary revenue expiring July 1, 2018, and lawmakers prohibited from addressing tax issues in next year’s regular session, Edwards says procrastination is no longer an option.
“The day for the long-term reform we all know is needed has arrived. Resistance to doing what is right and necessary to fix this problem once and for all is no longer acceptable.”
The House Ways and Means Committee begins hearings on more than two dozen tax reform bills this morning.