As the Louisiana legislature gears up to gavel in the 2010 regular session at the end of the month, one story getting significant play involves a provision in Governor jindal’s budget to increase, by 70%, the fee state motorists pay to receive or renew a driver’s license. The current fee is $21 but the Governor’s budget increases it to $36.50.
Initially, press accounts suggested this was done in order to pay for some unfunded mandate by the Obama Administration. This has been countered to a degree in recent days with stories suggesting the State Police did not want to see a $13 million dollar reduction in its operating budget for Fiscal Year 2011. Clarifying this is worth another story in the near future but the real story is the firestorm of opposition by a loud, bi-partisan block of House and Senate members.
If one reads the Morning Advocate for news, you would think that legislators and voters all across the state are outraged that Governor Jindal has largely refused to raise taxes (notwithstanding this fee issue) as a way for the state to close budget shortfalls in state spending. Higher Education, led by LSU, continue to press the Governor and key members of the legislators to restore the dreaded Stelly Tax or a variety of other taxes, rather than force state agencies to tighten their belts.
Given the loud calls by the Advocate and the establishment in and around the Capitol, you would think a $15 fee to maintain funding for the State Police would merit plenty of support by the legislature. However, the vocal and vigorous opposition, much of it coming from Democrat members of the legislature, is an excellent sign that the legislature is poised to cut spending in the Fiscal Year 2011, perhaps more than the Governor has suggested, in order to balance the budget.
This may not be cause for cheering like a repeal of the State’s income tax or some such enormous reform, but it is a reassuring sign that the new legislature, elected in the wake of term limits that kicked in for the 2007 elections, has done much to shift the culture in Baton Rouge away from reflexive taxing and spending. It has been this culture which has placed our state at number 49 in just about every quality of life index, and I hope Governor Jindal and his staff utilize this changing culture to press for even bolder reforms as he enters his third session as the chief executive.