On This Year’s Conservative Suicide At The Capitol

At lunchtime today, the East Baton Rouge Republican Party is putting on a debate between Reps. Alan Seabaugh and Brett Geymann about the Jindal-vs-the-Fiscal-Hawk food fight at the legislature…

Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), the leader of the Fiscal Hawks in the Louisiana House, and Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), a conservative leader and Vice Chairman of the House Republican Delegation, will explain the issues now facing the legislature and the governor on the state budget and fiscal reform at Tuesday’s Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon in Baton Rouge.

Geymann and Seabaugh, who normally agree, were leaders of opposite groups during Friday’s showdown in the House Chamber.

Geymann and the Fiscal Hawks crafted a coalition with the House Democratic Caucus and the Black Caucus, while Seabaugh was a leader of those who challenged what they saw as tax increases.

In a power-packed session of the House Friday, lawmakers approved their own state budget, as an alternative to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget, passed a package of fiscal reforms, and approved several measures to increase state revenues and balance the budget.

Geymann and Seabaugh will discuss the issues that will face the Senate and the governor in the aftermath of Friday’s votes.  One of the key points will be whether the fiscal reforms passed by the House will survive.

That’ll be at Cafe’ Americain at noon in Baton Rouge. The reception beforehand will happen at 11:30.

Our readers will note that initially I was mostly on board with the Fiscal Hawks. Two years ago I was probably the first pundit on the right to begin griping at the governor for his budgetary incontinence and identifying that as a cancer on his upward mobility, and last year I took a lot of heat for saying his inability to come to a resolution of the state’s structural budget problems – and specifically to get the Republicans on board with a workable plan – disqualified him from being a good choice for vice president on a Romney ticket.

But my expectation is that Seabaugh will wipe the floor with Geymann in this debate. I figure this for two reasons: one, the Fiscal Hawks have taken the insanely stupid position that tax increases – and one-time tax increases at that – are somehow more fiscally conservative than raiding government bank accounts for money that’s just sitting there. And two, Seabaugh was actually one of the fiscal hawks at the start. He fell off the bandwagon when their machinations progressed from opposing Jindal’s fiscal games to breaking bread with the Legislative Black Caucus and digging into the wallets of the productive sector.

On Friday the House passed a slew of bills which made the fiscal hawks’ descent into insanity manifest. Yes, their revised plan was better than the $330 million in new taxes they’d proposed earlier in the week. But in an effort to show “legislative independence” they’ve essentially embraced the worldview and failure of the Left in this state.

Raising taxes on business, considering what’s just across the Sabine River and what it has done to our economy over the last four decades, won’t raise revenue. You’re not going to raise taxes; you’re going to raise Texas. Republican legislators ought to know this; they’re in power because Democrats consistently did it in this state for years and years.

But the Fiscal Hawks are out there talking about how the state – with a $25 billion budget! – is broke thanks to “corporate welfare.” And John Bel Edwards and Pat Smith are rolling in the aisles at their idiocy.

This morning I had a conversation with a veteran political operative based here in the state who does a lot of work elsewhere, and in his terms Louisiana has a very “immature” political leadership on the conservative side. That’s spot-on; the Fiscal Hawks represent what ought to be the state’s conservative conscience and from their ranks should come a fountain of rising political leaders. Instead, they’re becoming the Stupid Party before our very eyes, and many of them will be blown out of office in 2015 thanks to the very people who put them in office in the first place.

And incidentally, this has very little to do with Jindal. I’m not a fan of the way he’s treated the Fiscal Hawks; these people should have been his allies and they needed to be cultivated. Jindal did a terrible job with that project and he deserves what he got as a result.

But pique at the governor and his staff, and the stupid way they’ve dealt with the legislature, doesn’t justify running to Pat Smith and pow-wowing for tax increases. Even if you say what you’re doing is eliminating wasteful exemptions rather than actually raising taxes, that doesn’t wash – those exemptions were put in place to compensate for the fact that Texas and Florida have far better tax codes than Louisiana does, and so we have to shield people from that tax code to keep them from leaving the state to do business in friendlier climes. This isn’t a surprise to the leges; they’ve voted in every single one of those exemptions.

And going after the exemptions would have been defensible had it been part of a legitimate tax reform. You could have dumped in $330 million in tax increases, or maybe more, and maybe jacked up cigarette taxes through the sky, had it been part of a package to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax and corporate franchise tax. Even if such a move were to represent a net increase in revenue, it would have been defensible.

But while Jindal’s tax reform plan was a Rube Goldberg contraption and politically unsellable, the governor gave the legislature a charge to give him something that would move the needle on fixing Louisiana’s lousy tax code. And the House promptly rejected the entire premise on practically the first day of the session – and commenced an effort at mining for gold in the wallets of the business community to fund things like the largest state payroll in the South on a per capita basis, a public four-year university which graduates maybe one out of every 20 students who walk through its doors and fire trucks in Tioga.

True fiscal conservatives ought to be better than that. True fiscal conservatives should be paring back not just the expenditures of government but its role in society. And if the state’s real budget problem is too many dedicated funds and too much cash in those funds, then a true Fiscal hawk position shouldn’t be opposing Jindal’s attempts to sweep those dollars into the general fund but rather to drain the surplus dedicated funds and send that money back to the public for our own use.

Nobody has mentioned that. Nobody has made any real proposals to cut the size and scope of state government. All we’ve heard is how draconian the cuts have been to higher education over the last four years, which is a canard because (1) the baseline from which those cuts have been calculated is 2008, a year when the state had a $30 billion budget flush with Katrina money and Jindal and the leges stupidly plowed that money into pumping up recurring operations, and that level of spending was never going to be sustainable, and (2) most of the “cuts” have been recouped by the universities through higher tuition, and despite that fact the cost of higher education in Louisiana is still miniscule compared to what it is elsewhere.

In short, these “fiscal conservatives” have swallowed Democrat talking points whole and seem to be choking on them. It may be Jindal’s fault for losing them, but they’re responsible for their own choices.

And their immaturity.

Conservatives and Republicans in this state had better start demanding better performance from our political class, and fast – because the price we’ll pay is a resurgent Louisiana Democrat Party. And that’s something to make you lose your appetite.

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