APPEL: The Legislature Is Going To Have To Lead On Fiscal Policy Now

The Sunday morning editorials bristle with attacks on the Legislature for “kicking the can” and for failing to follow the Governor’s lead. But what lead were we to follow? What strategy was presented, what options were we allowed under his call for not one, but two special sessions?

The Governor’s own Fiscal Transition Team was clear as to a reasonable strategy that we should employ during these recessionary times;

“After all cuts have been made that do not jeopardize public safety, economic security, health care, and the orderly functioning of government, then and only then should additional revenue be considered.”

A quick perusal of the calls for the two special sessions obviously demonstrate the Governor’s rejection of this principle. Instead his strategy was clearly to dramatically increase spending at the expense of taxpayers in order to grow government.

Ironically, in order to justify this strategy, he demanded that the ongoing Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy issue an interim report before his second session call. The Task Force was clear in stating their conviction that the piecemeal tax increases and tax reform ultimately included in that call was not good strategy;

“..any changes in tax policy should be consistent with comprehensive, long-term reform”

The legislature’s reaction to the Governor’s proposals to simply increase taxes in order to fund expanding levels of government was very consistent; Louisiana needs revenue and tax reform, which may or may not include tax increases, but at the same time it must definitely be linked to long-term issues such as economic vitality, definition of the state’s role in health care, efficient funding for education, and so on. In order to strategize the nature of reform it is basic that we first fully define what revenues are needed. In other words there must create a clear definition and prioritization of what expenses we are to fund, something that has never been done in the past.

All of this sounds good but we are flying in the face of a philosophy of government in which, simply put, everyone wants everything that is important to them but no one wants to pay for it! A classic example is the extent of infrastructure issues that we face. There is a need for $18 billion just for repairs and maintenance but any discussion of tolls or fuel taxes dedicated to infrastructure is dead on arrival.

So what are we in Legislature to do? To use a sports metaphor, the GOP dominated legislature has the ball. We rejected to a great extent the Governor’s big government strategy but we will fail miserably if we do not support structural change to the fisc. This change must include tax and revenue policy but, more importantly, it must establish a strong system of priorities for spending. That means that either we lead the citizens away from the that old adage of a chicken in every pot or else we will find ourselves mired in infighting that will leave us wide open to a tax and spend strategy that we fought so hard to defeat.

There are no more excuses; either we in the Legislature take the lead (and I absolutely believe that we do so in cooperation with the Governor, not against him) or else we capitulate. Capitulation equates to a continuation of failure that has been the history of our state even as other Southern states have prospered.

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