Today’s headline was something that reads like I could agree with it. But let us face it, the devil is in the details and the devil we know resides in the Chambers of the state Legislature and in the Governor’s Mansion.
We do not yet know the details of the federal government’s spending limitations, but from my history in the Senate I can suggest a few criteria to the legislative committees that will allocate these funds.
First, under no circumstances can this one-time windfall be used for any continuing expenses. There are already calls to increase unemployment payouts, increase teacher and other pay, and grow many other areas of state government. This is a one-time dump of cash; it will end sooner rather than later. And when it ends, we must not be stuck with growing continuing costs for which we have no continuing revenue stream to pay with.
Two, pay down as much debt as possible. Cleary the Unemployment Fund must be backfilled. But beyond backfilled we must recognize that state and municipal imposed shutdowns may well have caused devastating long-term damage to the economy, damage that could result in far more lost jobs than we see today. As a result, the growth in demand for Unemployment Compensation may take a long time to be known. Therefore, we must super fill this fund in order that there be reserves for the unforeseeable future.
Next, if possible (and from what I am reading Congress may not have allowed this) we should pay down the state’s Unfunded Accrued Liability in the pension plans. The final bill for UAL will come due in a couple of years and this would be a great time to minimize the impact of that payoff requirement.
Third, we must reserve a large pot of funds for the match that will be necessary to secure future Federal infrastructure funds. We do not have this reserve today, but we must plan for the future. Whether there is an infra-structure bill or not we should create a fund to reserve funds for when one does occur.
As to physical infrastructure, we must be careful not to fitter away this windfall on a whole bunch of local projects that may be politically meaningful to members, but do not fulfill a strategic need for the state.
As to tourism, I would suggest caution. Though a big industry in our state, tourism has never demonstrated an ability to lift a large number of people from poverty. Tourism is fine, but we should be focusing our economic development dollars into areas that offer good paying jobs for our people, advertising that only creates low paying jobs may not be the best use of our dollars.
Finally, I recommend that the key word in the appropriation of these funds is discipline. There will be hysterical demands for more and more spending, there will be tears and political pressures made upon the legislature. But if they are disciplined, then the windfall will do something that does not happen often in Louisiana. The funds will be invested to create the most beneficial future for the majority of our citizens. An unknown concept, but what better time than now to start.
Do I believe that this governor and this legislature will resist the temptation to spend like crazy? Well, let’s say I am not betting my paycheck on it, but I am hopeful!