Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne lied on the pages of Louisiana’s most prominent newspaper, and won’t take responsibility for that. Both reflect his boss’ wishes.
Last month, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget received an executive budget from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. But instead of using the official revenue forecasts from the Revenue Estimating Conference, it incorporated numbers the Edwards Administration wished to use, contrary to law. The official forecast has remained the same since the middle of last year because one REC member, Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras, would not accept revised estimates showing more revenue mainly out of an abundance of caution over wildly gyrating oil prices. REC numbers become official only when all members agree to them.
I wrote about this in one of my last columns for the Baton Rouge Advocate, publicizing the tendency of the Edwards Administration to disregard the law when it didn’t suit the governor’s political agenda. This prompted Dardenne to pen a letter to the editor where, among other things, he defended use of the unapproved estimates by alleging “There has been no revenue forecast by the REC for Fiscal Year (FY) 20. The only FY20 forecast was in June 2018 as part of a long-range projection of revenue, not as an ‘official forecast’ for FY20.”
That was untrue. In a subsequent blog post, I pointed out that the documents from that REC meeting clearly showed it had adopted numbers for those years as official estimates.
And last week an attorney general’s opinion confirmed that fact. In Opinion 19-0038, GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office concurred with me, bluntly noting that “the REC adopted an official forecast for fiscal year 2020 at its June” meeting, meaning “it is legally wrong to claim that no official forecast exists for fiscal year 2020.”
Summoning the entirety of facts and logic he could to support his contention, Dardenne’s reply was, “He’s entitled to his opinion, we just happen to think it’s wrong;” in other words, when the facts don’t fit your argument, ignore the facts. He then tried to deflect from his being caught out by declaring the whole issue would become moot upon eventual recognition of the revenues, as if this exculpated him from breaking the law.
And, for now, this is how the relevant statutes are interpreted. While an attorney general’s opinion does not make law, it stands as the official interpretation of statute in the absence of any other jurisprudence on the matter. Until a court rules otherwise, all entities under the law, including government, must follow that interpretation; in this case Dardenne, at Edwards’ behest, broke the law.
(It also causes other problems. Because Dardenne didn’t follow the law, this affects the numbering of the general appropriations bill for legislative consideration. House rules specify designation “HB 1” for the governor’s budget, but since one did not get legally submitted, that cannot be used.)
For the reason Dardenne specified, it’s unlikely that any legal action will occur against him for this, so the judiciary won’t have a chance to weigh in. Still, it provides more exposure of sanctimonious behavior by Edwards, who rode into office emphasizing the honor code of his alma mater: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”