We covered this a bit last week, but there’s an ongoing fight between the Louisiana House of Representatives and the rest of the state government as represented on the Revenue Estimating Committee, the official body made up of a representative of the governor’s office, the Senate president, the House Speaker and an economist designated to prepare the estimate of the state’s tax revenue for budgeting purposes. That economist, LSU professor James Richardson, had suggested Louisiana had some $150 million in surplus tax revenue coming in for the current fiscal year and had presented the REC with a motion to recognize it.
Rep. Cameron Henry, the House Appropriations Committee chair, vetoed that updated REC forecast. Henry was standing in for House Speaker Taylor Barras, and when he said no to recognizing that revenue and allowing the state to spend the money, he was pilloried as a bad man and The Grinch for his trouble in an outpouring of emotionalist stupidity which was perfectly emblematic of today’s Left.
Henry and Barras have both said that when they’re sure this money will actually turn up in the state’s coffers the House will recognize it – but not before, and with oil prices taking a nose dive recently maybe it isn’t such a good idea to count all those chickens before they hatch. Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to plow $43 million of that projected surplus into a list of items the Legislature had identified as possible uses for surplus revenue, and his allies just can’t wait to cut the checks for those.
“There just seem to be a number of concerns that we’re taking a big leap of faith,” Barras said. “I am not one to make these decisions easily.”
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser; Senate President John Alario, a Republican; and LSU economist Jim Richardson voted to increase the forecast.
Dardenne suggested Barras was blocking the adjustments to try to keep from funding the $43 million list, which includes money owed to sheriffs for housing state inmates in their local jails, dollars to open additional dorms in a new youth prison facility in Bunkie and money for corrections department operations.
Stalling the forecast changes also could create problems for Edwards’ plan to propose a teacher pay raise in his budget recommendations for next year. The governor was expecting improved tax collection projections to cover the raise in the budget proposal he’ll unveil in February.
The $43 million list could be funded later in the year when the numbers are more certain, Barras replied, and the teacher pay raise could be added when lawmakers work on next year’s budget in the 2019 legislative session.
After the last several years, when the REC’s performance has been nothing short of atrocious and the state’s budget has gone from crisis to crisis, it’s hard to fault anyone for demanding a conservative approach to spending money. After all, we’re a year removed from Gov. John Bel Edwards declaring a $1.5 billion “fiscal cliff” and threatening calamity for senior citizens in nursing homes if a full cent of the state’s sales tax set to roll off the books wasn’t restored. Only half that amount was needed to prop up the largest budget in Louisiana history, as it turns out, and now Edwards wants to spend even more thanks to a slightly improving state economy.
Except despite all the screaming at Henry and Barras, there’s already evidence they were right and the governor and his Capitol clowns were not…
Interestingly enough, and we waited two days after Henry put that message out on Facebook, there hasn’t been a single story in any of the state’s major media we’ve seen acknowledging the House Appropriations Committee chair’s information. Nothing. As far as the Advocate and Times-Picayune are concerned Barras and Henry are just being obstructionists about the REC forecast and keeping the governor from spending the state’s dollars on already-appropriated priorities.
And this whole controversy is about nothing, anyway. Edwards is going to get his $43 million to spend, but he’s just going to have to wait until next year for it. What he’s upset about is not being able to spend the additional surplus beyond that $43 million on his own priorities without washing them through the Legislature, and specifically the House of Representatives.
You won’t read that in any of the state’s major media, either. Doesn’t make it any less true.