If You Thought You Were Getting A Responsible Second Term From JBE, Well…

…prepare to be disappointed. But really, what on earth were you thinking? There was zero evidence in the man’s first term that would have indicated he’d be anything other than a money-grubbing fiscally-incontinent trial lawyer with a penchant for abusing the legislature and attempting to bully the political opposition.

And now, less than a month into that second term, here he is reverting to form. Not that he ever departed from form. The second term already looks like the first.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is taking a dispute over millions of dollars in unclaimed property with Treasurer John Schroder to court, suing the treasurer to force him to turn over the money so it can be spent in the state budget.

The lawsuit, filed Friday morning, ratchets up a monthslong battle between the two officials and moves toward a resolution ahead of the upcoming legislative session where Edwards is seeking to spend the money at issue–an estimated $25 million–to help pay for his campaign promises, like teacher pay raises and investments in early childhood education.

Edwards’ administration in the lawsuit said Schroder was “usurping the authority of the Legislature” by refusing to turn over the unclaimed property funds to be spent in the budget, and asks a judge to force Schroder to hand over the funding. The governor’s office said it was filing the suit early Friday morning in the 19th Judicial District court in Baton Rouge.

We’ve waded into the unclaimed property issue before here at the site. In fact, Schroder himself waded into it for us. His argument isn’t half bad; namely, that the money in the unclaimed property fund is just what it says. It’s property, and not the state’s property. His job as Treasurer is to repatriate that swag with the people who own it, not to fork it over to the state general fund so that John Bel Edwards and Louisiana’s politicians can then treat it as state money to buy votes with.

The counter to that is it’s unclaimed, and when somebody claims it the state will cut them a check, and so long as there’s a million bucks or so sitting in a bank account somewhere from which those checks can be cut Louisiana is doing what it needs to where the unclaimed property fund is concerned.

Which is an argument you would make – of course – when what you really believe is that it’s all the government’s money, and anything people get to keep comes from the benificence of the government. It has been quite clear for a long time that John Bel Edwards holds to that belief, and so does his Commissioner of Administration, the putative Republican career politician Jay Dardenne.

We’re going to have a lawsuit over the unclaimed property money because Edwards and Dardenne are going to release an unconstitutional state budget today which will be more than $125 million in the red. Second term, same as the first.

Gov. John Bel Edwards will propose a budget to lawmakers Friday that is a wish list of sorts, based on income projections that aren’t included in Louisiana’s official revenue forecast because Republican legislative leaders wouldn’t adopt them.

The Democratic governor will submit a 2020-21 spending plan that anticipates another $103 million will eventually be added to next year’s revenue forecast, and he’ll use that money to help pay for education financing increases he wants.

Edwards called the forecast adjustments — which haven’t been adopted — “the responsible thing to do” and confirmed that he had included them in the spending proposal his administration will unveil in a meeting of the joint House and Senate budget committee.

“It will be a spending plan that we give the Legislature that will be premised upon the adoption of a forecast,” he said Wednesday after speaking to the Louisiana Municipal Association.

The Legislature’s new Republican leaders, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, refused last week to support the income forecasts recommended by nonpartisan economists, which the Edwards administration sought to adopt.

Rather than $103 million more to spend next year, Schexnayder proposed to boost next year’s projections by $400,000, describing that as a more conservative approach. Cortez supported Schexnayder. But Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, rejected the idea, because the estimates the House speaker proposed weren’t crafted based on economists’ advice. With the three officials at odds, a new forecast couldn’t be adopted.

Edwards employed a similar approach to his budget proposal last year because of another income forecast dispute. He used dollars he expected legislative leaders to eventually include in the forecast, rather than the actual amounts available to spend under the law.

In addition to the $103 million, the governor’s budget proposal for next year also will include the spending of $25 million that is the subject of a dispute with Treasurer John Schroder.

We’re probably not going to do a story on the budget reveal, because we already know how it’s going to go. Edwards or Dardenne will launch forth with dire threats about what happens if that money isn’t recognized and has to be stripped out of the state’s budget – old people jettisoned from nursing homes, orphans fed to alligators in the bayous, collapsing bridges, tens of thousands of prison inmates turned loose on Louisiana’s streets, and so on.

This despite Edwards and Dardenne presiding over the largest budget in Louisiana history while the state’s population stagnates and its emaciated economy grows in a paltry fashion compared to its neighbors. Second term, just like the first.

We should have been free of this asinine style of governance, in which the governor refuses to accept the mandate of fiscal restraint the people of Louisiana are attempting to impose on him. Edwards should have lost re-election as punishment for four years of fiscal incontinence. But for reasons we’ve discussed ad nauseam around here, the voters of this state didn’t take care of that business, and so we’ll get a second term of this tired old routine.

The only thing different is that Edwards won’t have a John Alario around to hijack the budget process when HB1 gets to the Senate. The current crop of legislators have all heard this song before, and the vast majority of them aren’t going to dance to it. Dardenne can drag out all his beat-up toys in committee hearings and press conferences, about how if the biggest budget in Louisiana history doesn’t get bigger the state won’t be able to provide basic services to needy people, and he might as well tell it to a wall.

Because nobody is listening. Other than perhaps the judge at the 19th JDC, who’ll have no choice now that Edwards has shown up with his lawsuit.



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