The eighth session of the Louisiana legislature convened under the administration of Governor John Bel Edwards was adjourned this past Monday. The upcoming ninth (regular) session will begin on Monday, March 12. This will likely be a truncated non-fiscal session which will shortly lead to a tenth (special) session, which action surely contravenes the spirit if not the letter of the Louisiana Constitution. By way of comparison, Gov. Jindal convened ten sessions of the legislature in eight years, a number which Governor Edwards will equal in just over two years. There can be no better illustration of governmental dysfunction in the recent history of Louisiana.
Immediately after the recent adjournment Governor Edwards conducted a lengthy press conference vilifying Republican leadership for the universally acknowledged failure of the just-ended session. He did this knowing full well that he had been unable to control elements within his own party, the Legislative Black Caucus, which failure precipitated the session’s break-up.
Gov. Edwards came to power in 2016 after a most unusual election with a widely unexpected outcome, but the result stands nevertheless. What must also be remembered are the scores of successful Republican candidates elected at every level of government in our state since the beginning of this century, and the increase in Republican Party membership and the corresponding decrease in membership in the Democrat Party. The point to be made is that the present governmental impasse is not the result of Republican legislators’ intransigence or a spiteful Republican leadership, but rather the incontrovertible fact that the great majority of our citizens have repeatedly rejected higher taxes and higher spending. Governor Edwards seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge the obvious.
In just over two years under Governor Edwards, Louisiana’s budget has increased 20%, from $25B to $30B. The Governor tells us that we do not pay sufficient taxes to properly educate our children. The fact is that Louisiana is eighteenth in spending per student but 49th in student achievement. Independent observers consistently tell us that Louisiana is one of the very worst governed states in the nation. Government statistics indicate that we are the only Southern state which is losing population and we are barely growing in the midst of a national economic boom. Increasing the tax burden on our businesses and our citizens is not the answer to our problems!
I am in absolute agreement with Senator Kennedy’s recent warning that we must trim state spending. If we are to avoid another two years of governmental gridlock, flaring tempers, and further lost business opportunities, I make the following suggestions to our Governor:
Firstly, since last Monday the Governor’s representatives have quietly acknowledged that the real deficit is not his initial claim of $994M, but a more modest $692M. This reduction is attributable to the $302M in additional state tax receipts soon to be realized under the federal tax bill passed with exclusively Republican support in December. The Governor must stop publicly pretending that the real deficit is a shade under $1B.
Secondly, it appears that Louisiana will realize an additional $40M in revenue because the previous deficit was calculated on the basis of oil priced at $51 dollars a barrel, when its price has been holding steady above $60 dollars a barrel. The actual increase in severance taxes will likely be even higher, but for now this conservative $40M reduction in the deficit should be recognized by the Governor.
Thirdly, it appears that the budget can be reduced by an additional $137M or thereabouts without any legislative action at all, because the Governor has the power to cut any of the nearly four hundred statutory dedications by up to 5%. Some statutory dedications are certainly necessary, but many are not. That the Governor has not already taken this step raises serious doubts that he has any intention of ever cutting any spending at all. This potential $137M in savings should be the Governor’s top priority, starting immediately.
The foregoing considered, we should be facing a true budget deficit in the range of about half a billion dollars, not the Governor’s oft-proclaimed billion dollar “fiscal cliff.” Some departments within state government have made genuine efforts to reduce costs, but many have done little or nothing and continue to grow, apparently out of control. It is hard to believe that a state government which is universally acknowledged to be one of the least efficient in the country, could not take this opportunity to enact reforms and trim spending by a half billion dollars from a $30B dollar budget! The upcoming non-fiscal regular session is an opportunity that must not be wasted- taxes cannot be raised but spending can be reduced, and the people of Louisiana deserve a good faith effort by their government to do just that.
Louis Gurvich is the Chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana.