At $237,500 a year, Gov. John Bel Edwards got a bargain in Jay Dardenne.
The high salaries paid by his predecessor to deserving Republicans were decried in the campaign as “exorbitant” by candidate Edwards. But the salaries it turns out were something of an exorbitant floor, not an exorbitant ceiling.
Leaving aside the bad practice of salaries widely varying among departments of government, the raises for several key appointees provoked comment, including Dardenne’s. He is about $30,000 a year better off than his Jindal predecessor, the short-serving Stafford Palmieri, who had been an aide in Jindal’s executive office before becoming his last commissioner of the Division of Administration.
Is there anyone in the State Capitol who does not believe that of the two, Edwards is spending more wisely?
With a budget crisis that is more severe than in a generation, Dardenne demonstrated that he is not just a Republican face on the Division’s challenges.
His lucid description of the problem, and grasp of the intricacies of the budget and its process — he is a former lieutenant governor and Senate Finance Committee chairman — makes the strongest possible case for the administration.
He outlined on Monday for the Press Club of Baton Rouge the dimensions of the budget problem and — more clearly than Edwards himself — Dardenne talked about the huge differences between the current fiscal year ending June 30 and the longer-term crisis facing the budget year beginning July 1.
The two crises have been conflated in the public eye because they come so close together, but they represent different challenges.
Cuts to the tune of $700 million, coming so late in the fiscal year, are a managerial crisis of staggering dimensions and one that will require Edwards’ team to violate their own inclinations — a short-term sales tax is about the only way to generate new money quickly enough, Dardenne said, although significant cuts also will be necessary.
The next year’s budget is the one that Dardenne by law must present in two weeks, and it will be ugly because the Legislature has not yet been able to meet and either authorize cuts or raise revenues. It will make cuts by necessity that no one wants to see happen, Dardenne said.
That budget will be shock therapy for the political system, as the state is down by about $1.9 billion in a general fund that is only about $9 billion — not the $25 billion global number, including federal funds and pass-throughs, used by GOP critics of tax increases.
Dardenne said he’d given the same exposition to the “retreat” of the Republican legislative caucus held at the City Club in Lafayette. He answered questions, he said, asking only that his GOP colleagues adhere to the tradition of nonpartisan lawmaking that Dardenne grew up with in the Legislature.
Dardenne also demonstrated that he’s no patsy. Asked at Press Club about state Treasurer and Senate candidate John N. Kennedy’s assertion that the state could just sweep into the general fund the dedicated expenses in the budget, Dardenne said the “senatorial wanna-be” ignored the facts about the services provided by the dedications; those expenses can’t be waved away, and he listed a lot of them, from restoring oyster reefs to meeting debt obligations of the state.
He added that the debt obligations included those approved by the Bond Commission — chaired by Kennedy.
Whether the Legislature is in a nonpartisan mood is open to question, but members will have to be on their game when Dardenne is at the microphone.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is email@example.com.