APPEL: Short-Term Good Budget News, But No Change In The Long-Term Need For Fundamental Reform

The Finance Committee met today and we were given a general overview of the budget status by Commissioner Dardenne. He presented some good news that the budget shortfall for the next fiscal year continues to decline and is now pegged at roughly $600 million.

The problem with this “good news” is that even if somehow we meet the targeted spending in the Governor’s budget we will have not really done much good. In this case, as I pointed out, all we will be doing is that we will be rescuing state government by pouring lots of new taxpayer money into the same inefficient structure that we have had for years. We will have ill used the taxpayers to ease the burden of facing up to our duty to provide the most effective government for the least cost. In other words we will just raise taxes in order to kick the can of bad policy way down the road. No reform, no setting of or funding of priorities, no strategic planning.

Based upon testimony this morning, the Administration is only working on cuts to address the immediate problems of meeting the budget shortfalls. So far they do not show any interest in projecting a vision for a better government for Louisiana; they are only focused upon cuts. I believe that “cuts” are short term and are not based on any long term strategic goals. The use of cuts without strategy screams to me “maintain the status quo by just raising taxes”.

There is a task force that is looking into overall reform, but as the Commissioner noted that Task Force is mainly just focused upon tax reform. Tax reform is important, but we were led to believe that this Task Force was to give equal weight to tax and spending reform. If the Task Force fails to address spending reform, the citizens will have been done a great disservice.

In an odd way this budget crisis is a great opportunity to undertake true reform. We have a chance to address fundamental problems in higher education, healthcare, and numerous other areas of state government. We have a huge opportunity to address the state’s multi-billion dollar relationship with local government. Sadly none of this will happen if we allow the opportunities for change that this fiscal crisis presents to escape us by simply addressing tax reform and then raising taxes to fund the current structure of government.

Do we need more revenue, I believe that clearly we do. Should we just raise taxes and then assume that our state is efficient and cost effective – not a chance. That would be the easy way out and would condemn our citizens to years of mediocre state government.

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