If it seems to you that every other day there are new numbers being thrown around as to the size of Louisiana’s budget deficit that will need to be addressed with higher taxes you or your employer will pay, you are not alone.
Amid the rush to pass tax increases to resolve Louisiana’s midyear budget deficit, several bills were passed without even having fiscal notes attached to them to provide a reasonable estimation of the impact of those taxes on the budget. This has created no small amount of consternation within the state legislature and particularly in the House. One representative we talked to told us virtually all of the budget projections being bandied about to the press were “bullshit,” and Rep. Valarie Hodges was on the Moon Griffon Show earlier this week saying that comparing similar tax policies to states with similar populations and demographics yielded estimates that the tax increases already passed would all but eliminate any budget deficits going forward without the needed budget restructuring that the House wants done but the governor is decidedly averse to.
So the question is, why weren’t those fiscal notes available? And how honest are the budget projections being fed to the legislature and the media?
Keep Louisiana Working might have hit an artery with a public records request seeking information along those lines. From a press release issued this morning…
The Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) is seeking to suppress a public records request made by Keep Louisiana Working in accordance with the Public Records Act of Louisiana. Sent on Friday March 4, the request asks for all communications made between the Legislative Fiscal Office, Governor John Bel Edwards’ Office, and agencies within the executive branch regarding legislative fiscal notes during the 2016 Extraordinary Session.
In an email, John D. Carpenter, the Legislative Fiscal Officer, denied the request claiming the records are “privileged” and are therefore “exempt” from the provisions of the public records law:
“I will be unable to comply with your request as all of the communications which you seek the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) to disclose are privileged and are therefore exempt from the provisions of the public records law.
Communications of the LFO and all of its staff relative to legislation must be and is treated as confidential and privileged under the speech and debate clause, Louisiana Constitution Article III, Section 8.”
Sounds a bit suspicious, no? Why would simple numbers-crunching to arrive at budgetary projections for fiscal notes on tax bills be treated as confidential? This is, after all, our money they’re contemplating taking away from us; we’re not able to see how they arrive at the accounting of how much is needed?
A bit more…
The impetus for the Keep Louisiana Working’s request came as a result of concerns raised by members of the Fiscal Note Review Committee regarding the accuracy of the LFO’s financial projections.
“Sometimes members believe there is pressure on a (fiscal) note to be higher or lower depending on who’s on the fourth floor (governor’s office),” said Rep. Cameron Henry, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The Legislative Fiscal Office vehemently denied the insinuation that the Edwards Administration could influence their staff. At a press conference, Governor John Bel Edwards went further, asserting that the suggestion “is categorically false” and suggested “Cameron have a little more to go on before making those kinds of accusations.”
Keep Louisiana Working’s director Anthony Ramirez isn’t so sure…
“Governor John Bel Edwards is right. Tampering with fiscal projections to artificially manipulate budget numbers is a serious accusation. However, if these assertions are true, their actions will significantly impact millions of Louisiana’s working families. Our citizens know all too well how imperative transparency is to ensuring that our state government functions properly and without impropriety. That importance is heightened even further when there are serious allegations of misconduct between our governor and one of our state’s most essential agencies.”
“It is beyond time for Governor Edwards and his taxpayer-funded government bureaucrats in Baton Rouge to recognize that they work for all Louisianans, not just the individual who currently occupies the Governor’s Mansion. If they have nothing to hide, then we expect the Edwards Administration and state administrators to reconsider and immediately cooperate with our public records request.”
Ramirez’ logic is absolutely correct. Edwards owes it to the people of Louisiana, before he calls yet another special session to raise our taxes, to release all the information relative to the arrival at the fiscal notes for his tax bills, not to mention the failure to produce fiscal notes for the ones passed without them. Edwards doesn’t get to reflexively attribute Henry’s skepticism to partisanship; not when there is wide-scale distrust of his numbers among members of at least one of the two Houses – particularly since that’s the house from which all revenue measures must originate.
If the Legislative Fiscal Office has been corrupted by pressure from the governor to fuel his ambition for tax increases to grow government, the people of this state have a right to know.
And we particularly have a right to know if this is happening given that Edwards ran for office on the promise that he would NOT raise taxes, only to raise alarms about the deficiency of the state’s finances upon taking office and demand the very tax hikes he eschewed as a candidate. If those records indicate the size of the budget deficit was a deliberate scam brought to the people of this state by pressure on what are supposed to be unbiased agencies, then a recall of this governor is in order and should proceed with haste.
Moreover, we will know over the next few months whether the suspicions of many in the House are warranted and the budget crisis Edwards used to push those tax hikes was overblown. Trying to hide the process from the people in such a case merely buys him time; it wouldn’t exonerate him.