APPEL: John Bel Edwards’ Bilious Budget Remedies

Governor Edwards has announced his plan to avert what has come to be called the “fiscal cliff.” This plan is to revert to some of the recommendations of last year’s Task Force that studied our budget. Amazingly, last year he ditched these very same proposals in favor of his dream of a CAT tax, an idea that no one, including his Administration, even knew anything about.

This year’s budget plan seems something designed to trip up legislators because he knows, as in the case of last year, that there is no sentiment to raise taxes on people without real reform of government. It’s an old ploy; present a plan that feeds your political base knowing all the while that it is doomed to failure, with ready-made villains to blame when the anticipated failure comes. One has to ask why there is so much passion for spending other people’s money without even trying to use his powerful position to focus resources where they would do the most good for the most people.

Oh sorry, I forgot, that’s not good politics!

The enabling legislation for last year’s Task Force clearly stated that it was to study in a balanced way both revenue issues AND spending issues. However, perhaps for political reasons, our governor steered the Task Force away from almost all discussions on spending issues and instead had it focus its entire effort on revenue enhancements. What was the unspoken significance that resulted from that action by the governor to the people of Louisiana? To understand this let’s look at a few facts related to our state budget.

In 2014-15, at the end of Governor Jindal’s term, our total state budgeted revenue was $22.56 billion. This year, under John Bel Edwards, our budgeted revenue is $28.32 billion or nearly $6 billion growth in little over two years. By the way, today’s spending is the highest in the history of our state, to include the post Katrina windfall years that all agree was a wasteful spending frenzy!

Now the governor says that this spending increase is because of Federal money.

WRONG answer! Total state effort, those funds that are raised from citizens and businesses in Louisiana, in that period of time went from $14 billion to $15.2 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion. And because of unfettered spending on healthcare we know that that number is projected to increase substantially over the next few years.

My challenge to the people is – “What can we show for all that extra money?” Aside from what seems a poorly executed acceptance of Medicaid expansion, not much!

Yet, standing there with a straight face the governor told us all that we are not paying enough taxes and fees and that he just had to raise our taxes so he could grow government even more. Wow, let me say that again. We are spending at the highest rate in history, he steered the Task Force away from any serious consideration of spending reforms, there is little to show for all that spending, and he looked us all in the eye and said we are not paying enough!

OK, so the Democrat Party’s and the governor’s line is “well the legislature won’t tell us where they want to cut”. The media loves that one but it simply isn’t true. There have been literally dozens of legislative proposals to reduce ineffective spending and reduce the size of government and its budget.

Among those…

  • Let’s see, we spend between $100 and $200 hundred million too much to keep the elderly in nursing homes instead of in their own home where they want to be – can’t do that, the governor got massive campaign funds from nursing homes!
  • OK, we have been giving Hollywood a couple of hundred million a year to bring out of state production projects to Louisiana, why is that a good deal – well, it is sexy and though it doesn’t create any long term industry it gives politicians a chance to be seen with movie stars!
  • We have sent up to $400 million a year to local governments for inventory tax rebates and countless millions more in other state funds sent to locals, why – well, it really helps at re-election time!
  • We have way too many universities and five boards of higher education – please, we can’t cut that, it would ruin football and the patronage is to die for!
  • We have hundreds of dedicated funds that siphon off money before the Legislature can decide if any of them fit priorities of the people – oh no, can’t touch that, some favored special interest or other may not be able to get their stipend from Baton Rouge!
  • We have a pension system whose design was abandoned many years ago in the private sector as far too costly, why wouldn’t we design a modern system for new employees – oh no, not that, those teachers and state employees vote!

There are many, many more but all these proposals have common characteristics; they all would save huge amounts of money annually, they have all been brought up in budget discussions by the legislature (some many times), and, with the acquiescence of the Administration, they have all been killed by special interests. To be fair some were killed during the Jindal Administration also, but Jindal was reducing revenue needs at the time, not trying to increase revenue while leaving reforms like these unaddressed.

Does anyone recall seeing any discussion of any of these in the Task Force budget study? Has the governor ever even mentioned these or any other options to run a more effective and efficient government?

Easy answer, NO!

These are areas that the governor definitely did not want the Task Force to go into because he was afraid that the Task Force would create a scenario in which he would have to tackle a controversial issue. That would not fit his plan.

So here is where we are. We have a governor who is proposing substantial new taxes on our people and businesses with no corresponding attempt to make government better. At the same time I sense a very deep sentiment in the Legislature not to follow his tired old routine of raising taxes to avoid making tough decisions. So we will probably remain stagnant.

When will our state ever get tired of business as usual? This governor’s political philosophy, the one that has dominated political thought in our state for decades, has served us so well, hasn’t it? We are last in almost every measure of good results from government! That’s something to be ashamed of but instead he wants to avoid tackling the really tough stuff by just taxing more and more to pay for business as usual.

Any wonder the legislature is reticent to follow his lead?

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