STRAIGHTENING OUT LOUISIANA’S FINANCIAL WOES!
Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
STRAIGHTENING OUT LOUISIANA’S FINANCIAL WOES!
We hear from the national news that the country has become polarized over the election of Donald Trump. But if you want to see real division in government, just take a gander down South to the Bayou State. Republicans have been trying to pull the political rug out from Governor John Bel Edwards at every turn from day one. And efforts to undermine the new governor do not show any sign of slowing down soon.
Edwards got a hint of the rough waters ahead when his handpicked candidate for speaker of the house was soundly rejected in favor of a Republican alternative. Then, facing huge deficits left over from the Jindal administration, the legislature only gave the Governor half a loaf of the new revenue needed to fill the state’s financial gap. The state is facing a $320 million shortfall for this fiscal year, but there is little legislative interest in raising new taxes.
Cut, cut, cut is the Republican rallying cry. And cuts in many programs will no doubt take place. The state is certainly not at any bare-bones spending level. After all, the budget just two years ago was $22.6 billion. This fiscal year, the same budget has jumped up to $26.9 billion. And I can tell you first hand that there is always room for cutting back.
I was a statewide elected official in Louisiana for twenty years, and every year, just like all the other state agencies, I pleaded for more tax dollars. But you know what? If my budget was ever cut by five to ten percent, I could find ways to slash and the public services wouldn’t drop a bit. Every agency in government has a press secretary and an assistant press secretary. Are they really needed? How about the legislature insisting on performance audits on every agency in government to be sure the taxpayer is really getting their money’s worth.
And a little cooperation among the state’s elected officials would help. Our new U.S. Senator, John Kennedy, continued his attacks on the Governor for not spending federal dollars for flood recovery soon enough. This knock is a bit lame since the feds have only given Louisiana a small part of the recovery funds it needs, and the holdup, as is usually the case, looks to be out of Washington.
Attorney General Jeff Landry seems to have a daily spasm eager to confront Edwards on a number of issues. Landry, by the way, has strapped on his six-gun and is trolling the state making arrests for any number of crimes, even though the constitution gives no arrest power to the AG. But what’s a little thing like a constitutional prohibition?
The Governor has some options, particularly considering that the state gives away over a billion dollars a year in special tax breaks. But how many are really that necessary, and is the state getting its money’s worth?
So, as I wrote a few years ago, why not just go back to square one? The legislature, without any direction from the new governor, could go into a special session, either with the governor’s support or on their own, and re-build a financial plan for taxing and spending from scratch. Why have a knockdown, drag-out fight over what funding to cut or what exemption to preserve? Just let the legislature do its job with a clean slate and no “locked in” spending requirements.
Back in 1973, I was an elected delegate to the constitutional convention and served as co-chairman, along with former governor Buddy Roemer, of the revenue and finance committee of the convention. After months of discussion, we directed that the legislature assume the constitutional responsibility of determining year in and year out just how state funds were to be spent. No special exemptions. No advantages or money protection for any one group.
But little by little, the legislature bowed to the whims of special interest groups and allowed constitutional amendments that limited the legislature’s ability to prioritize spending. So here is what needs to happen. The legislature in its coming spring session, should deal just with Article 7 of the constitution. Eliminate all dedicated funding for any special interest. It would take just one constitutional amendment to be considered by the voters next year.
The Governor this week took a break from dealing with Louisiana’s financial crisis and is visiting with the Pope in Rome. Unfortunately, it will take more than a papal blessing to get the state’s fiscal house in order. A prayer would help, but amending the constitution would be a good beginning.
“It is a popular delusion that the government wastes vast amounts of money through inefficiency and sloth. Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.