The gubernatorial election of Bobby Jindal and the new wave of legislators in the aftermath of term limits in 2007 was a twin fuel injection for reform efforts in Louisiana. For the most part, they have placed the state on a sounder footing, even with the poorest economic climate in generations. The state’s bond rating has improved, unemployment has remained bellow the regional and national averages and they have up to this point refused to raise any taxes to maintain the state’s still bloated budget. Additionally, a number of onerous business taxes that placed Louisiana at a severe disadvantage for business development in the region, most especially Texas, were removed in a historic special session in early 2008.
Reducing state expenditures to keep the budget balanced is the one thing they have not yet aggressively tackled but the current US economy has placed downward pressure on sales tax collections and real budget cutting is on the horizon, or maybe not. Key legislative leaders have proposed and the Governor supports, SB 1 (a proposed constitutional amendment), which ostensibly affords the governor greater power to use various trust funds to maintain budget balance.
On the surface this might appear to be a useful tool to allow the Governor to ensure that health and education spending do not bare the brunt of spending cuts, as has been the case in previous decades. Upon closer inspection, SB 1 is really a way to allow the Governor and legislature to continue to avoid the tough budget choices and reforms necessary for the long term viability of the state. It would appear the Governor is listening to the voices of the university establishment led by LSU, rather than the base voters that powered him to his smashing victory without a runoff in 2007.
A broad range of groups has already come out in opposition to SB 1, including CABL, PAR, and LABI. While all portions of the state’s budget should be exposed to reduction, this is not the right change that the Governor should be pushing. We should be looking at the herculean efforts of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who is staring down at a possible bankruptcy in his state and is pressing for serious budget reductions. If the Governor and legislature take the easy route out, pleasing the forces opposing reform and passes SB 1, they only delay and make harder the necessary changes to keep the state moving forward. He and the legislature must make the tough choices that the Louisiana electorate that sent him to Baton Rouge to do, not prop it up on the backs of weary taxpayers. Hopefully, cooler and wiser heads will prevail and the Governor and reform oriented leaders in the legislature will say no to SB 1 and yes to overdue budget reductions and consolidations.