Now that we are finally seeing some progress in the campaign against bloated government, let us hope conservative legislators stick to their principles.
So far they have not weakened in their pledge to let hardworking families keep more of their hard-earned dollars. If you are a lazy SOB or have a cushy job, don't worry. You're covered. It is a standard conceit that life is hard, hard for all honest burghers when politicians are buttering them up and preaching small government.
And the downsizers have been in control lately. Louisiana's GOP has resisted yet another attempt to plug a $648 million budget hole with new taxes. Unless there is an eleventh-hour change of heart, Louisiana will set a new standard in government frugality when sales taxes imposed two years expire any day now.
Those tax-and-spend, bleeding-heart liberals may think that small government will look a lot less attractive once it sinks in, for instance, that food stamps are about to disappear in Louisiana. They will assume that the prospect of children starving on the streets will weaken conservative resolve.
The GOP caucus may pooh-pooh that prospect anyway, dismissing it as an iteration of the old dialysis dodge, whereby a governor would demand revenue enhancement on pain of turning off lifesaving machines. Scare tactics may have worked years ago, but today's legislators are of a different kidney and won't be bluffed.
Indeed, being made of sterner stuff, they may stand firm, bluff or no bluff. If they want to eradicate the entitlement mentality, they will long to see the handouts end. Any hardships caused by ending food stamps in Louisiana are just the price that has to be paid for ideological purity, and the sight of skinny kids need not be distressing so long as they are someone else's.
And it will be well worth it once the shock of being required to put food on their own tables has forced malingerers to shape up and take responsibility, just as solid citizens do.
Dependency, the theory goes, robs people of their dignity, so we will be doing humanity a favor when food stamps are withdrawn. By sticking to their guns, members of the GOP caucus can save taxpayers money and bring about a fairer and more productive society.
But if that proposition rests on an assumption that food stamps are strictly for the feckless, it is misguided. Most food stamp recipients are either disabled, underage or greatly stricken in years, and more than a quarter of them have jobs but don't earn enough to make ends meet.
A state operating budget of some $28 billion will always include a great deal of fat. But, even though it seems likely that some government expenditures could be painlessly eliminated, nobody had identified them before the Legislature's sixth budgetary special session ended in the usual chaos and futility.
State officials are evidently in earnest when they say that, if no new revenues are approved in a seventh special session, the consequences will be dire. Not only will food stamps go, but prisoners will be let out of jail, law enforcement will suffer layoffs and higher education standards will slip disastrously, for instance.
Maybe true believers should accept such upheaval philosophically because that is the nature of smaller government. But in the end, not even the most doctrinaire member of the GOP caucus will want to be held responsible for the end of food stamps.
To let the program peter out would run counter to Samuel Johnson's celebrated — and to liberal minds incontrovertible — maxim that a “decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” But no appeal to morality is necessary to preserve food stamps; practical and political considerations will do the trick.
Food stamps are issued to 860,000 Louisiana residents, or almost 1 in 5. Abolishing the program would constitute mass political suicide. Not only would a whole bunch of former beneficiaries, and 1,000 laid-off state employees, be out for revenge on Election Day, but the state would forfeit well over a billion federal dollars.
Wanna fight big government? You’re a little late.
Email James Gill at Gill1047@bellsouth.net.