Editor’s Note: A guest post by John Kay, Louisiana State Director for Americans for Prosperity.
As the clock struck midnight on June 4, the House floor in Louisiana’s Capitol building echoed with frantic shouts from members asking state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Shreveport Republican, to allow a vote on a sales tax increase. Seabaugh refused and was thusly accused of “trying to run out the clock,” a charge he readily admitted and for which he deserves our thanks.
This was the last gasp (literally) of the big spenders who broke their promises to the people of Louisiana that, one, the “temporary” sales tax enacted in 2016 would actually be temporary and, two, that they would reform our tax code. It was their lack of vision that did them in.
Remember, soon after being sworn in, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and legislators quickly set out to raise our taxes, even though just months earlier the governor promised he wouldn’t need more taxes to fix the budget. The governor proposed and the Legislature passed a two-year sales tax increase, which came with an explicit promise that it would be a short-term measure, a “bridge that will give us time to stabilize and restructure our state’s tax code.”
Fast-forward to June 2018. Edwards is saying he still needs the tax increases that he promised in 2015 he would not need. But chasing dollars to patch holes rather than addressing the structural problems we have in our budget and tax code was always a fool’s errand. The people of Louisiana expect, and deserve, more.
Our economy is shrinking, our people and businesses are moving away, and all we get from the governor and Legislature is more of the same tax-and-spend policies that got us here. It’s like the governor is “trying to run out the clock” on individuals and businesses who want to call Louisiana home.
Was the Legislature wrong to call the governor’s bluff? Were lawmakers wrong to refuse to throw more money at one of the largest budgets in state history?
No, they weren’t wrong, and they should stand firm in the upcoming third special session of 2018. Here’s an example why.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne repeatedly tells lawmakers, “It’s your turn. Cut the budget. You tell us specifically what you don’t want to fund.”
In response, Republican state Reps. Tony Bacala, of Prairieville, and Rick Edmonds, of Baton Rouge, worked to pass measures requiring Edwards’ administration to report on how it shifts dollars around within state government. In other words, they called for an end to the shell game that the executive branch plays with the budget so, for a change, we’ll all know how much the state spends on vacant positions. This is simple transparency.
These bills were passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. Lawmakers had rolled up their sleeves to do the work that Edwards challenged them to do.
Apparently, the governor thinks that part of the budget is off-limits, even to those charged with overseeing it. To the rest of us, it’s an implicit admission that there is fat that can and should be cut. It’s as if Edwards is forcing legislators to play a game of pin the tail on the donkey with budget cuts. He wishes you well, yet laughs while you dizzily attempt to do the impossible.
After the vetoes, on the last day of the special session, the Louisiana Department of Health magically came up with $40 million it doesn’t need. Where did that money come from, and how could the department make such a big mistake? And why are we just finding out about it now? With the lack of transparency, we will probably never know.
Bacala, Edmonds and other lawmakers made it clear to the administration that they want the shell game to stop and the donkey games to end. Any tax increases will go to fund this shell game (and let’s be clear, an extension of the sales tax is a tax increase, no matter what the governor says).
The people of Louisiana deserve more than their legislators taking their hard-earned money to fund a government that won’t even give us a look at how it spends it. Legislators, you don’t work for Edwards. You work for the taxpayers and we expect you to fight for us, not a bloated bureaucracy.