Louisiana Tax debate hits social media with a fury

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — If Twitter is an accurate portrayal of the tax debates to expect in the Louisiana Capitol’s chambers, it’s going to be a rocky special session.

The trash-talking on social media has reached a fever pitch as lawmakers bicker — in 280 characters or less — over their philosophical points ahead of the tax session called by Gov. John Bel Edwards to begin next week, aimed at closing a $1 billion budget gap and avoiding deep cuts.

Anyone longing for impressive oratorical skills or complex policy discussions will find themselves still wanting after they read the commentary from their elected and appointed officials on Twitter.

Instead, many lawmakers, policy analysts, lobbying groups and governor’s office staff have decided to engage in finger-pointing exchanges about who’s to blame for Louisiana’s fiscal woes and whose positions will move the state beyond the financial morass.

The budget gap stems from the July 1 expiration of temporary sales taxes passed by lawmakers in 2016, planned as a bridge to a larger rewrite of Louisiana’s tax laws that never happened. House Republican leaders blocked previous tax proposals pushed by the governor to replace the expiring taxes.

Without replacement taxes, Edwards said the state would have to end many of its safety-net health programs and slash most of the spending for the TOPS college tuition program. No lawmaker has offered a proposal for how to close the gap entirely with cuts.

Republicans and their allies use Twitter to question Edwards’ claims that he’s cut the budget by hundreds of millions since taking office, saying the math doesn’t add up. They say the Democratic governor only pushes taxes without looking at the expense side of the ledger.

Republican Rep. Blake Miguez of Erath posted: “The first step in solving the State’s fiscal problem would be for the Governor to admit the real problem, LOUISIANA has a SPENDING PROBLEM! Majority of LA taxpayers agree and have sent a clear message to State Gov’t. ‘Get the spending under control and stop raising my taxes!’”

Democrats and their supporters post complaints that GOP lawmakers never offer a list of what programs the state should stop funding even as they complain about bloated spending. They suggest Republicans refuse to permanently correct Louisiana’s financial problems because they don’t want Edwards to succeed, hoping to keep him from winning re-election in 2019.

Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, replied to Miguez: “You have the rhetoric mastered my friend. Can you identify the cuts? Where is the waste? Let’s try to solve the problem. Give me a list, let’s try to find common ground. We’ve been waiting on a plan from your side for weeks. What gives?”

Outside groups funded by unknown sources and Twitter accounts led by unidentified people get in on the debate, seeking to antagonize and attack lawmakers on the opposing side of the political spectrum.

Edwards’ office has participated, too, with staff members suggesting anti-tax Republicans are being disingenuous in their arguments.

Meanwhile, some Republicans frustrated with their own party’s refusal to support either a redesign of Louisiana’s tax laws or to identify a specific list of cuts have entered the fray.

Rep. Barry Ivey, a Republican from Baton Rouge who sought a sweeping tax rewrite last year only to see it squelched by his colleagues, described his annoyance on Twitter with those in his own party.

Ivey questioned how House GOP leaders’ support for lowering Louisiana’s spending cap and setting up a spending transparency website called Louisiana Checkbook would address the immediate budget shortfall.

“All I hear is the peddling of snake oil from my R colleagues. I have heard no honest solutions — except a Checkbook site and low hanging cuts, then want to pawn off hard cuts so they can shift blame,” Ivey replied to Miguez’s post.

That’s just a sampling of the arguments, accusations and criticisms posted on the social media site daily as lawmakers and those who watch them vent their frustration and anger about years of indecision over an approach to end Louisiana’s financial woes.

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