APPEL: The Accelerating Louisiana Fiscal Tug-Of-War

There is, at the Baton Rouge Business Report today, a column by publisher Rolfe McCollister that people interested in the ongoing budget battles within the Louisiana legislature, and between conservatives and Governor John Bel Edwards, which will only heat up as the state deals with what is projected to be a billion-dollar budget deficit for next year, should read.

Here’s a taste…

Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards arranged a meeting with a group of business leaders from around the state to brainstorm ways to address the state’s looming $1 billion fiscal crisis. While getting input from those taking risks and growing jobs is a wise move, I have to wonder whether there isn’t just a clash of philosophical differences on the role of government and whether there can be agreement on the solution to this so-called fiscal cliff.

Edwards said after the discussion that we all have an obligation to address the issue and, “My administration has been working to find a combination of spending cuts and revenue options that will stabilize our state for the long-term. To date, we have cut more than $600 million in spending and worked to make government more efficient.”

But is that enough? We have been at the edge of this precipice before. What did we learn? Why are we here again? And are we afraid of making the hard decisions—or will we be forced to this time?

I heard from one attendee who was appreciative of the opportunity to share ideas but simply stated, “I think it comes down to a focus on revenue vs. a focus on outcomes. There’s still a meaningful gap between those mindsets.”

He indicated it was a very cordial meeting and he hoped there would be follow-up because he didn’t think one meeting would be enough to bridge that gap. But I personally am not sure multiple meetings will change the views, as I see the governor to be loyal to his Democratic Party principles and one who believes in a big role for government and teachers unions—and that more taxes are the real answer.

This editorial is a perfect verbalization of the status of affairs in Louisiana politics. We ARE in a philosophical tug-o-war between traditional populist Democratic politics led by Governor Edwards and the potential of prosperity offered by pro-economic growth policies championed by Republicans.

Most of the media have bought into the talking points of the governor’s media people portraying the differences of opinion in Baton Rouge as somehow a conspiracy by Republicans to just obstruct the governor. But the truth is far from what is being reported. We are locked in a fundamental fight for the very future of our state.

Governor Edwards is an honest man. He forthrightly believes in a political philosophy that our leaders have embraced for almost a hundred years. Of course this has been a hundred years during which the “in-crowd,” many of whom now reside in Texas, prospered while Louisiana languished in the 50th spot in socioeconomic outcomes. We on the Republican side do not see benefit in continuing down a path that leads to the same results but at an ever growing cost in jobs and taxes.

The line of demarcation is clearly drawn. Our governor wants raise revenues in order to double down on our old policies. That is what he has always believed. A case in point is his unilateral acceptance of Medicaid expansion without, as in the case of many states, the benefit of negotiating better terms with the Obama Administration. Whether one likes the Expansion or not is irrelevant to this discussion. What is relevant is there is no debate that through his action we are rapidly approaching a point where we cannot afford to fund any other state services at a fair level as our contractual obligations to fund Medicaid will leave us destitute.

Yes, this is a philosophical battle, one that offers only two outcomes; follow the governor and stay last in everything, or make a dramatic swing away from big government and the welfare state in order to build prosperity for all.

Clearly I am passionately committed to ending the “Louisiana Way,” the way of Huey Long and our governor. I will absolutely do whatever I can to persuade my fellow legislators that doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome is insanity!

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