The stubborn refusal of Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to follow the science, mirroring other political leaders of his party pursuing ideological goals, is about to receive its payoff. Now, it’s up to the heretofore milquetoast leaders of the Republican Legislature to minimize the damage.
This week, Democrat Pres. Joe Biden looks set to put Americans another $1.9 trillion in hock on a spending bill he alleges necessary to combat immediate economic dislocations from the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, but which in reality spends a minority of dollars on anything remotely connected to that task, of which most won’t be spent for at least a year, unnecessarily so as the American economy is hardly doing any worse than it was a year ago, and any ongoing damage is largely self-inflicted.
By policy-makers like Edwards, who needlessly keep in place economic restrictions proven overbroad and largely ineffective.
But that’s in order to get the payoff, as in the spending bill in its current form states will receive $350 billion, or more than everything allocated in all measures combined over the last year (“allocated,” because much has yet to be spent; witness the state’s plan to dole out $161 in federal rental assistance just now a year after the pandemic took hold). If proportionally doled out, that means Louisiana would receive over $5 billion – over half the entire general fund revenues for a single year.
However, the bill – which barely passed both chambers of Congress with near unanimity from Democrats – doesn’t impartially distribute funds. Predictably, these will go out on a partisan basis, rewarding states with reckless spending over the years and which continue to unnecessarily hamstring their economies. Louisiana is, sadly, a good example of such a state.
Most of these states have had Democrats fully in charge of government, and the others split control between governor and legislature. For example, states with higher unemployment rates – directly caused by aggressive lockdown policies as continued recently by Edwards – will receive more in the spending bill. Of the 12 states with the highest unemployment rates, 11 have Democrats as governors, but only one has a GOP-led legislature to go along with that: Louisiana.
So, now it’s up to Louisiana’s Republican legislative leaders to check the excesses that Edwards surely will champion with his payoff for sticking to ideology. Look for him before the start of the legislative session in just over a month to argue on behalf of his fellow tax-and-spend liberals in and out of state government for an orgy of additional spending to the increased budget he already proposed.
Instead, through careful bookkeeping with these dollars Republican legislators should pursue objectives that keep these from backing new commitments, and thusly towards long-term uses on the policy agenda for some time. These should include:
- Filling the Budget Stabilization Fund as much as statutorily possible
- As previously mentioned, pass Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock’s SB 1 into law, which would gradually divert through its remaining life the 2016-18 sales tax increase into infrastructure, addressing a $14 billion backlog
- As well, pass SB 30 by GOP state Sen. Stewart Cathey that shunts the first quarter-billion collected in sales tax to roads
- Call the ongoing bluff, currently a talking point in trying to raise the gas tax, that the state won’t have enough of a match to fully draw federal highway money, by setting aside the money to do that
One current liability, the deficit in the state’s unemployment trust fund which at last count stood at $133 million, also should receive money – a gap which the spending bill will aggravate as it continues enhanced unemployment benefits into September that for 60 percent of recipients will pay as much or more as employment. Anything left after this should go to paying down the state’s unfunded accrued liabilities in pensions, which will cause recurring savings through the 2029 deadline.
The current crop of Republican legislative leaders has little history of spending restraint when money suddenly appears, whatever its provenance. They need to grow a backbone and pass bills that resolve long-standing issues (which Edwards won’t veto because he couldn’t spend the bucks anyway), not let Edwards fritter these away.