I am a journalist. Most folks who do what I do will confess that wringing out an answer from a bucket of numbers is a hard day’s work for us.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some idea about numbers. It’s like my illiterate grandmother would tell me when, as a little boy, I brought her change from the store: “It feels like I ought to have a few more nickels.”
That said, I have been listening to the debates in the Louisiana governor’s race, and the four top guys have a familiar refrain that they can fix the state’s troubling financial situation with a little trimming, eliminating, refocusing and reshaping.
“Cut,” “trim” and “rededicate” were the candidates’ favorite words. They were questioned about the possibility of “raising taxes,” and from their expressions, you would have thought the Prince of Darkness had uttered them.
One candidate said during a debate Wednesday that he would consider putting taxes on the table along with a slew of other ideas. A couple minutes later, he started walking back that position, essentially saying he wasn’t that serious about it.
Like every other taxpayer, I abhor the idea of paying more taxes. But I also am a realist. If our financial situation is so horrendous, we can’t beat up our college students, elderly and ill just to prove a political point.
During the recent debates, I heard the candidates say there are billions of dollars (and other millions and billions in other needs) in desperately needed state infrastructure repairs from New Orleans to Epps and from Many to Maurice. Hundreds of roads and bridges are crumbling. That’s scary stuff.
And for my friends in the Baton Rouge area, we are looking for millions to relieve us of the daily five-hour car lot that stretches from West Baton Rouge Parish to East Baton Rouge Parish to Livingston Parish. How much more can we trim to pay for the remedy?
We have almost cratered our health care and higher education systems with ruthless cuts. If it’s still breathing, we call it a victory. In education, the idea is to tax —- er, drive up the tuition — to make up the difference.
The president of the LSU system even floated the idea of seeing what financial exigency would look like at the state’s flagship university.
The folks in the gubernatorial debates have sworn that the cost savings they are considering (most which we have not seen), their budget cuts and the right-sized multimillion-dollar tax breaks to the right businesses will help us grow our way out of this mess.
We hope so, but we’ve heard it before.
This reminds me of a friend’s situation a few years ago. He and his wife had two school-age children. He worked full time, and she worked part time. The extra money helped, but neither liked the idea of her working.
They felt with some trimming and with the income from a rental property they owned, his wife could stay home and be there for the children before and after school.
Friends warned that leaving her job was risky, but everyone respected their decision.
It worked well for about a year. Then both children had tremendous growth spurts. So they had to buy more clothes than they anticipated. The family virtually stopped going out to dinner, limiting their trips to fast-food restaurants.
They eliminated their cable, and instead of two laptops, his children had to share one desktop. Then their golden goose, the rental property, had problems because they couldn’t get nearly the rent they needed. They were in a financial soup without a life raft.
Then they decided to take the children out of a few extracurricular activities. Save those fees and the kids would just have to understand.
Story ends two years after their grand plan began with the wife returning, first to a part-time job, and later to a full-time job.
Maybe these candidates have a real plan to right this ship without raising taxes. Lord knows I, and others, would be happy. But the familiar tune of cutting, trimming and redirecting is not enough and not reality.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is a freelance writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.