This is exceptionally difficult to explain, other than perhaps that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ political people are telling him he’s going to get the backing of the state’s legacy media no matter what he says and so he might as well go big on selling himself as a budget-cutter.
After taking criticism for its last list, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has sent lawmakers a new spreadsheet of budget cuts it says were made during the governor’s two years in office. And the cuts included are larger than the last tally.
The list released Thursday totals $981 million, up from $672 million.
The tally contains the same types of items that drew Republican criticism.
Many are one-time cuts that don’t yield permanent, long-term savings. Other cuts are counted twice, for each budget year Edwards has been in office. A $152 million item is a delayed payment to Medicaid providers, a debt still owed.
Edwards’ list is a defense against GOP criticism that he hasn’t done enough to trim spending as he pushes to replace $1 billion in temporary taxes.
We’ve plowed most of this ground already, as our readers know. The long and short of this argument is that Louisiana’s budget is bigger – a lot bigger – than it was when Edwards took office. And contra his position that the budget is bigger because Louisiana is catching more federal money than it used to catch, the state-funded portion of Louisiana’s budget is bigger – by about a billion dollars – than it was when he took office.
For him to say he’s cut the budget takes a level of dishonesty that makes him dangerous to the public – and impossible for the House Republicans, who are the primary folks opposing his tax increases – to negotiate with.
And for him to allege that he’s cut the budget by a billion dollars when he’s actually grown it by that amount is simply bizarre. It’s bizarre. Now he’s the Jon Lovitz of Louisiana governors. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Moving money around from one area of the budget to another is not a cut, either. If you’re reallocating $50 million from the Department of Transportation and Development to the Louisiana Department of Health, you might be able to say you’ve “cut” DOTD’s budget but you certainly can’t say you’ve “cut” the state’s budget.
That’s the essence of what Edwards is claiming, and it’s absurd.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Taylor Barras yesterday laid out a perfectly sound framework for a deal with the governor – namely, to use a partial restoration of the extra penny of sales tax which is set to expire, some of which would be temporary and some which would be permanent, then bank some of the revenue expected from higher oil prices and the state catching a windfall from the federal tax reform plan to solve most of the “fiscal cliff’ problems, while then taking a scalpel to the state’s budget to clean up the rest.
Edwards ought to be making conciliatory noises to assure the folks the state’s budget problems aren’t a crisis and that Louisiana’s economy is poised to grow quickly enough to make these concerns go away in future years. Instead, he’s creating that crisis and worsening it by signaling he’s not a responsible actor and lacks command of the facts.
Either way, we should know today whether the governor is going to call for a special session to begin on Feb. 19 to address the budget deficit.