Combat pay for Blanco

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Dan Juneau – The LABI Report

Gov. Kathleen Blanco was recently one of six governors – four Republicans and two Democrats – who were invited to make a trip to Iraq that happened almost overnight due to security reasons.

While there, Blanco was able to meet with Louisiana active duty service personnel, and she joined the group in additional meetings with military leaders and members of the Iraqi provisional government.

The danger present in such a trip was highlighted by an attack of insurgents on America’s top general in Iraq on the very day the entourage of governors left for home. Fortunately, the general was unharmed, as were the governors during their trip.

As dangerous as a trip to Iraq can be these days, Blanco may have felt somewhat safer there than she will once the March special and regular legislative sessions begin. In fact, she may want to request combat pay when the Legislature rolls into town to begin debating her proposals.

March 7 is the rumored opening date for Blanco’s first special session of her governorship. The two hottest items in the session will undoubtedly be renewal of a list of sales tax items due to expire at the end of the fiscal year, and the passage of bills to phase out two onerous business taxes.

No one expects a slam-dunk vote on either of these proposals. The reason for potential “insurgencies” in the Legislature on these issues is part political and part economic.

As with most governors, Blanco stepped on some toes with her leadership choices and the subsequent committee chairmen assignments made by her team.

Some geographic regions and caucuses feel that they were not treated fairly when these assignments were made. That has led some legislators to promise acts of defiance when key votes roll around during the special session.

Defiance would be a new trait for the Legislature, a posture they rarely took under the previous governor.

The sales tax renewal vote will be one potential target for some disgruntled legislators.

The Blanco administration would undoubtedly like to make the sales tax renewals permanent to avoid future legislative fights on this issue. The administration will likely have to put forth a good effort just to renew the sales taxes, much less make them permanent.

The administration’s plans to phase out the debt portion of the corporate franchise tax and the state sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment should enjoy some significant support in the Legislature, since many members campaigned to remove these two onerous taxes.

The devil, however, will be in the details. Some legislators will want a very rapid cessation of these taxes, while others will want an extremely long phase-out period that is backend-loaded to put off the “loss” of tax revenue.

If the administration favors the rapid phase-out approach, the “spending lobby” will howl in protest. If the governor opts for the long, backend-loaded approach, she will be criticized for ignoring the deteriorating conditions in the private sector in order to protect state jobs and spending.

The governor will find out quickly that the honeymoon is over once the special session starts. She will be at the center of a vortex of competing factions and will have to watch her back for attacks from adversaries who either want to send a message or settle a score.

By the time the special session ends and the regular session begins, the streets of Baghdad may seem like a peaceful retreat when compared to the potential firefight looming in the Legislature.

DAN JUNEAU is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.