SADOW: To The Budget Reform Crowd, Quit Posturing And Get To Work

Despite the trappings attempting to make the act seem one about constitutionality, the complaint forwarded by some Louisiana House of Representatives members about the current state budget was and always will be political. Therein lies the dénouement to the issue if any satisfactory end will come of it.

As noted previously, of the three different queries brought before Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell by state Rep. Kirk Talbot – that money predicted to be used as a revenue source from outside of the Revenue Estimating Conference procedure that they term as a “contingency,” cannot be used; that some of these funds are “fictional” because they won’t come about that money placed into a fund any that was initially determined by the REC as nonrecurring stays nonrecurring and cannot be removed from that fund for nonrecurring reasons – only the last may be questionable constitutionally because while to act otherwise does not violate the law, it denies its spirit. On strictly constitutional grounds, Talbot and his colleagues’ challenge had real little merit.

Thus, the real impetus behind it comes as political, confirmed by Talbot’s remarks that the group does not at present seek litigation to press their point, but that this does not preclude them from doing so in the future, as Caldwell said he would not rule on the constitutionality questions given the presumption that legislative acts are constitutional and that he would have to defend any challenges to them. While precedent heavily is on his side – almost never does an AG make such a ruling, restricting their pronouncements to questions of interpretation – it too serves a political motive: Caldwell would prefer not to touch off a crisis and thereby be considered, more than Talbot and his gang, the Grinch that stole the state’s budget at Christmastime.

Therefore, the challenge served as a threat to shape the upcoming, and beyond, budgeting process: do it our way or we’ll sue, for whether we win it’ll create a lot of headaches for you. Note also that in trying to frame the situation as an offer the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and others can’t refuse that it creates a neat avoidance of responsibility. If opponents knuckle under to the threat, then it means the individuals supporting the repudiation do not have to stump for hard budgetary choices themselves – the defining trait to date of the so-called “fiscal hawks” – and risk political fallout from that.

As a result, their opponents precisely need to do that – have introduced a fiscal year 2014 budget with the same characteristics and call the bluff. To be on the same safe side, that budget if it contains any funds sweeps should ignore the one fund to which the third consideration applies, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, or, to be more provocative, sweep money from that but specifically identifying it for a purpose related to coastal restoration.

Maybe then Talbot et al would file suit – but surely they know they have little chance of it succeeding and, even if it did, it extremely likely would be, after appeals, after the budget year has started that it would take effect. Regardless, this posturing then would have to be followed by action if their words are to be anything but hollow, requiring they demonstrate how they would change the budget and most likely mandating cuts. And unless these cuts are detailed – unlike the punting they did this past budget process when they offered up vague, if not hypocritical, change suggestions – it becomes yet another episode where the group is all hat and no cattle.

That’s a public relations battle their opposition has won and will win every time, for opponents can make a case why to spend that money and why it’s legal to do so, whereas the plaintiffs can show no credible alternative. In part, that’s why it’s a political battle they lose every time, because they cannot persuade majorities that money does not have to be spent in certain ways until they can show why the activities are not needed, or can be done more efficiently needing less money, or why too much of them is being done.

But, to date, that’s been unimportant to the group, which sees political gain from the mere talking about and presentation of symbolic solutions, not from doing the things actually needed to solve the problem of chronic budgetary stress through better spending choices and revenue redirections or reductions. They’ve not done them precisely because they are politically difficult.

Maybe that will change. Maybe the assumed leader of the larger bunch from which the core seeking opining came, state Rep. Brett Geymann who has taken a vow of legislative chastity and gone into reclusion to grapple with this demon, will produce an agenda that expertly identifies where savings can occur, the revenue redirections to match, and what unneeded revenue sources to discard (certainly not any tax increases, as analysis of the budgetary situation definitively reveals). Or perhaps, if unlikely, this faction will persuade the House or entire legislature to pass rules, even laws, to restrict or eliminate the budgetary practices they found abhorrent enough for which to ask legal recourse.

Regardless, even if Jindal and allies surrender without resistance, or Geymann’s group withers away, whatever emerges will come as a political solution – a set of ideas will win out through the policy-making process. That group, the Louisiana Budget Reform Coalition, kicks off a so-called “listening tour” today. Consider this post a combination of input and advice, concluding with a last bit of the latter: asking for opinions is cheap while concocting solutions beyond symbolism, persuading others to support them, and taking the heat for them is not. If you’re going to do anything meaningful and helpful, it’s time you finally got on with doing that, as it’s only your job description.

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