In an editorial attacking the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, opinion writer Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American Press did as nice a Cajun Two Step around the inconvenient truth of our governor’s actions as I have seen in my career. Sadly by attacking the Chairman, Beam perpetuates many myths about the philosophy and actions of the politician who resides in the Governor’s mansion.
Perhaps the most egregious of these is the myth that somehow when Governor Jindal left office there was a $2 billion budget shortfall that no one knew about. What is Beam talking about? After Katrina and Rita, Louisiana was awash in money and the legislature and then-Governor Blanco spent it like it would never end. The trouble was that this was all non-recurring revenue and it was spent on recurring and escalating expenses. To this fiscal nightmare must be added the infamous Stelly cut in income tax rates which was exacerbated by the earlier decision to eliminate sales taxes on numerous items.
After 2008 the country went into recession and, even worse, due to a sharp drop in oil prices, Louisiana slipped into a deeper intra-state recession. President Obama’s left-wing policies dragged out the national recession for years and what recovery there was turned out to be anemic at best. In the meantime Louisiana, with its archaic government policies, suffered worse than most states from the national recession and Obama’s lackluster recovery, compounded by our own intra-state recession.
To his credit, Governor Jindal started to wean Louisiana off of the Katrina/Rita windfall and to reduce state spending dramatically. Then-Representative Edwards was right smack in the middle of all of this. He became the leader of the Democrat Delegation and participated in many negotiations with the Jindal Administration over budgets. He even voted for most of the budgets that he helped craft.
When Edwards ran for the position of Governor he made it abundantly clear that, based upon his earlier tenure in the Legislature, he knew the budget. He asked us to trust him even so far as that he would not raise taxes because any shortfalls could be addressed by simply reforming government spending. Clearly he was saying, “I know the budget and I can be counted on.”
Now this all leads us to but possible two conclusions.
First, the governor, in his capacity as a legislator and as leader of the opposition party, did not actually understand anything about the budget or did not have the ability to discern what he was being told. Though the American Press won’t tell you, an important point to remember is that the legislature does not ever rely upon the administration for full fiscal information. The legislature receives administrative recommendations but we have our own expert revenue and spending staffs that are charged with evaluating the administration’s data and developing clear summations and recommendations from which we legislators make decisions. The legislature does not ever fully rely upon the administration to tell us what we must know about the fiscal position of the state; never. And John Bel Edwards knew this!
So in this first possible scenario either the governor could not or did not understand what he was being told. That means that the leadership he was undertaking was built upon an unstable foundation and his votes were not logical.
The other scenario was that during his campaign he was disingenuous and he knew fully well that he was misleading the people about what he did know. In other words during the campaign he always planned to raise taxes, but he consciously refused to tell the people the truth.
To make these cases even worse, within days of taking office, the governor unilaterally accepted President Obama’s Medicaid expansion. But unlike in other states he did so with few safeguards against out of control spending growth. Now, no matter what one believes of the social value of the expansion, this decision, made without any legislative input, committed Louisiana to billions in current and future spending and placed our future at the whims of future Presidents and future Congresses. Based upon their history, that’s a rather untenable position to be in.
If the governor didn’t know that we were in bad financial straits and then committed us to a future of growing fiscal turmoil due to exploding healthcare costs, then this could be defined as being unqualified for high office and/or a careless abuse of the public trust. If he did know that we had a tenuous financial situation and considered it a crisis requiring $2 billion in new taxes yet still willfully committed us to massive healthcare spending without securing legislative buy in, then this could be construed as outright political deception and/or malfeasance.
Either of these two cases are ugly but I can see few other possibilities; either a fundamental lack of understanding of the budget or a clear strategy to deceive. Ugly!
A wise person as governor, one who knew that we were on shaky financial ground, would have stabilized the budget, waited until revenues had recovered, and then and only then, engaged in a public debate through the legislative process about the importance of Medicaid expansion including its impact upon the future financial integrity of the state. If the social value argument overcame the fiscal impact issues then as a good leader that message would have been clear and the choice of direction would have resulted in substantial public buy-in. Instead we now find ourselves fractured on ideological fault lines and we are facing incredible financial challenges that will actually hinder our ability to grow our economy. The old expression fits the subject at hand; in effect the governor by himself ate our seed corn and now we have little to plant!
Agree or disagree with Medicaid as a social issue, it is impossible to make any argument that when he became the CEO of our state the governor was surprised by the budget situation or, that if he knew so, anyone can make any argument that his acceptance of Medicaid expansion before we had a stable fiscal situation was anything but political folly.
So now the American Press attacks the messenger because they do not want to accept the message!