SADOW: House Leaders Part Of Problem, Not Solution

When under pressure, people revert to their true natures. And insofar as political leadership goes, in the final session of the 2020-24 term of the Louisiana what we saw from the Legislature leadership was ugly, hopefully the last gasp of a mentality that has left Louisiana in tatters.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Pro Tem Tanner Magee have come under much fire for their handling of the session. It all crystallized in the last week of the session, when they muscled through a resolution allowing state government to spend, as opposed to banking, about 10 percent more of transitory revenue generation, and in the final half-hour of the session, when most of the spending bills were presented for members’ approval with hardly any of them knowing any details about what they were asked on which to vote.

This failure of leadership occurred at two levels, beginning with their unwise squandering of dollars ahead of a bleaker revenue picture. The Revenue Estimating Conference foresees fiscal year taxes, licenses, and fees falling from $15.277 billion in fiscal year 2024 to $15.103 billion in FY 2025, $14.666 billion in FY 2026, then a bump upwards to $14.936 billion in FY 2027 – a drop of over a billion bucks from FY 2023 just wrapping up. Given that new commitments (at least in intention) of around $320 million annually were doled out for education alone starting in 2024, maintaining this total level of spending will be difficult.

This leads to consideration whether this budget isn’t some kind of poison pill left to the next governor and Legislature. Frontrunner GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry has made no secret of wanting to rein in government, and neither is hidden the distaste that Schexnayder and Republican Sen. Pres. Page Cortez have for Landry and those legislators sympathetic to Landry’s right-sizing goal, who certainly would gain considerable power in the Legislature with Landry in office.

Of course, one goal with the bloated budget was to allow its backers to puff their chests out with pride in to leave in the history books or as a resume-builder for future elections the fact that they “gave” stuff to the people (as if one can be made a gift of your own resources; it’s not legislators’ money, it’s the people’s) – a legacy of Louisiana’s liberal populism where politicians seeks to hoard as much money as they can then distribute it as a way that makes themselves seem indispensable to the wellbeing of the polity. But another motive also was using it as a tool of payback against those with a different vision.

It’s all right to have competing visions, where the Schexnayders and Magees of the world take the grasshopper version of blowing it all now in the face of a certain looming winter, and the fiscal conservatives who voted against the enabling resolution to do this adhere to the ant version of saving to deal with that future. Realize as well a good portion of the excess spending authority went to non-priority items, mainly transportation infrastructure, while $237 million went towards more critical things such as stabilizing property insurance markets and coastal protection – which could have been afforded without busting the cap. There absolutely was no need to spend so much at this time.

For their trouble, most of the fiscal conservatives had Schexnayder yank their capital projects from the supplemental bill after the successful vote to violate the cap. This turned into a tag team effort when liberal big spender Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards subsequently used his line item vetoes on those in the regular capital outlay bill.

The grasshopper view is a flawed vision and in and of itself may disqualify those who follow it from being entrusted with elective office. It’s why Louisiana has lurched from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis historically while remaining relatively overtaxed, which manifested in the Edwards era – who backed Schexnayder for Speaker and with whom has cooperated in keeping bloated government – as declining population and stagnant job and wage growth contrary to most other states.

But truly reprehensibly about these people is their avoidance of taking responsibility for this and trying to blame others for their failures. This excuse-making stems not just from bad policy-making, but from bad leadership as an extension of trying to explain away policy mistakes. Remarks by both Schexnayder and Magee after the session attempted to address widespread complaints about budget priorities and the zero transparency involved in its promulgation that hardly was distinguishable from budgeting in the heyday of the Soviet Union.

In a radio interview, Magee (like Cortez before him) adopted the spousal abuser role by blaming the victims in causing the budgetary chaos, saying “You have a group of lawmakers who are more interested in making headlines about obstructing government than they are about doing the people’s work.” Note the breath-taking arrogance of this remark: equating a desire to spend less as “obstructing … the people’s work” and attempting to cancel legitimation of opposition to his big-spending agenda, as well as the avoidance of responsibility for his cabal’s cutting $100 million out of health care in the operating budget and $136 million out of Jimmie Davis Bridge funding in the capital outlay budget.


In media remarks, Schexnayder attempted even more vigorously to distance himself from accusations of failure to budget responsibly and transparently. Also assuming the spousal abuser role by calling those who voted against raising the cap “a small group of blockers, instead of helpers” – similar to Magee voicing a sentiment that trying to keep government spending under control was illegitimate – he mischaracterized outside assessments of the budget in trying to defend his actions as the chief budget architect (and who sat on the conference committees that approved removing dissenters’ projects, as did Magee, and the bridge money). “Someone sent me PAR [Public Affairs Research Council] and CABL[Council for a Better Louisiana]’s evaluations of the budget. The budget is a good budget; a good, conservative budget that moves our state forward. That has excellent projects in it.”

PAR did say the operating, capital, and supplemental bills had “many state priorities and positive developments,” but also noted that those “were overshadowed by the messy way lawmakers handled the spending of taxpayer dollars” and “lawmakers wasted tens of millions on favored projects for their districts that don’t represent state priorities. They continued unnecessary giveaways through tax break programs with uncertainty about their long-term impact on the state treasury. And they stripped hundreds of millions of dollars from the state health department with no idea what the impact might be on services to the poor, elderly and people with developmental disabilities.”

CABL noted that “lawmakers did enact spending bills that make many wise investments in the future of Louisiana” where for the “most part it spends non-recurring revenue on one-time expenses, mostly infrastructure projects.” But it also declared “there needs to be more time and transparency when making decisions over such huge sums of money” and “It also remains to be seen what the fiscal impact of this session’s spending will mean in a couple of years when some current taxes are removed from the State General Fund.”

Regarding these and other critiques of how the process was handled, Schexnayder followed the playbook by saying this could have been avoided if only the fiscal conservatives hadn’t dissented. But that’s a failure of leadership in that only at the last minute relatively speaking did Schexnayder convince enough of them to back a breach – by promising to retain the majority of dollars to pay down unfunded pensions and use much of the authorized excess on one-time expenses – and then he had an entire day after to clear up everything. Maybe if he hadn’t spent so much time trying to find ways to punish dissenters he might not have produced such shoddy results.

And his laughable assertion that dissenters deliberately disengaged themselves from the process so they didn’t know about contents is absurd on its face since he went out of his way to punish them, a style of leadership that doesn’t invite participation of your opponents. Nor does it address similar complaints from others who voted to bust the cap.

These attitudes and behaviors by Schexnayder and Magee, as representations of legislative leadership and policy-making, reveal everything that is wrong with Louisiana and why it has fallen so far behind other states by squandering its resources. Making mistakes and blaming others, neither wisely nor warily, only continues a long history of state politicians doing the same. As for the future as they and others who think like them seek elective office, voters should know Schexnayder and Magee are the problem and having nothing to do with the solution.



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