Gov. John Bel Edwards has gotten himself into a real pickle in what can only be characterized as a “my dog ate my homework” moment. The governor boldly and proudly boasted in front of a legislative budget committee recently that he had cut $600 million from the state’s budget.
Edwards not only stood by his "cutting hundreds of millions" bluff, he also took it up a notch by promising a detailed list of the cuts. This is where the governor got greedy. If you’re going to try to pull a fast one, you should keep your deception vague, simple, and offer as little detail as possible.
But instead, Edwards upped the ante on his “I cut the budget story and I’m sticking to it" by insulting Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt when she confronted him during a budget hearing recently. Hewitt couldn’t understand how the governor could claim to cut the budget when it’s grown so much under his watch. State spending alone is up more than $1 billion under Edwards. It’s up $5 billion when you include federal money. The governor told Hewitt he can explain his cuts to her, but he can't understand it for her. Pretty arrogant and bold knowing the house you’re in is built on sand.
Keep in mind Edwards' bombastic claim of cutting the budget comes just months after his own commissioner of administration, Jay Dardenne, contradicted his boss before a legislative joint budget hearing. Dardenne told the committee he would not use the word "cut" in describing how they dealt with the state budget the first two years of the Edwards administration.
Dardenne also admitted to me the funding for some of the cuts has been restored. Meaning Dardenne and Edwards want us to believe cuts are still cuts even though they are no longer cuts.
But where the governor’s shell game really begins to unravel is with the list of cuts he released to legislators. Not only has funding for many of the imaginary cuts been restored, some of them don’t even come close to anything resembling cuts.
It turns out roughly half of the governor’s $600 million in cuts comes from delaying payments to health providers that care for Medicaid patients. It’s insulting to all of us that the governor would think we’re all so gullible that we would consider delaying a payment a cut — a payment the state will eventually have to make good on. But it gets worse. The state delayed paying Medicaid providers the same $150 million payment for the first two years in office. But Edwards counted the single $150 million delayed payment twice. So half of the governor's "cuts," $300 million, come from a single $150 million delayed payment.
The problem now for Edwards is he either comes off looking grossly incompetent or highly deceptive. Keep in mind when the governor spun his "cutting hundreds of million dollars" tale to the legislative committee, he also told them he had the list of cuts in his office and would release it. Yet it took Edwards a full week to do so. Once the list was released, within 24 hours, legislative staffers blew holes in it. Despite that, it took the governor several more days to finally admit his list of cuts was inaccurate.
I don’t see how anyone could see this scandal as anything but the governor trying to pull a fast one over on us. Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt has a more statesmanlike take.
“I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and always assume that people are being honest,” Hewitt said.
I asked Hewitt how she can give Edwards the benefit of the doubt when it took several days for him to admit what everyone already knew — that the numbers on his "cuts" list were bogus.
“I think it indicates either deception or ineptitude. Both are bad,” said Hewitt.
It’s important the governor shoot straight with voters since he’s in the process of trying to get more of our money by raising taxes again. If we can’t trust Edwards to be honest about the numbers, the very last thing we should be doing is giving him more money to spend.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.