Want to see a picture of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards? Just look in a dictionary next to the word “arrogant.”
Edwards continues to earn this sobriquet by his stubbornness in clinging to an agenda to close out deficits for this and next fiscal year by unnecessarily taking more from the people. Instead of using a contemplated special session as a kick-start to right-sizing government and restructuring the state’s inefficient fiscal system, he seems intent upon using a crisis atmosphere to ram home tremendous tax increases in a state that already spends more per capita than the average state.
Edwards hoped to facilitate these hikes by having a Republican-dominated House of Representatives give Democrats substantial representation and leadership on its committees. Since the number of Republicans reached a critical mass in the Legislature about two decades ago, traditionally, minority party members have led and/or had majorities on some committees.
Instead, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, whom Edwards had opposed for election to that position, slightly decreased Democrat numbers on committees and in panel leadership positions. He reduced somewhat more the minority’s representation on the two “money” committees important to fiscal legislation, although he appointed a Democrat to head one of these: state Rep. Neil Abramson, of New Orleans, whom Edwards also opposed as a speaker candidate.
In response, Edwards castigated Barras, accusing him of breaking some kind of trust Barras insisted did not exist, calling the move “partisan, D.C.-style politics.” As has become typical with Edwards, he implied that agreeing with his agenda equates to sober and wise decision-making but that creating conditions to oppose it introduces illegitimate disagreement that promotes harmful division.
Edwards displayed his egotistical outlook again when commenting about Republican Treasurer and Senate candidate John Kennedy’s remarks pointing out ways, some valid and others not so, of inducing cost savings to obviate tax increases. As a candidate, Kennedy “will do what he thinks is in his best interest,” Edwards said. “I would invite him to do what is in the state’s best interest instead.”
Such conceit, that only Edwards’ tax-raising agenda serves the “state’s best interest,” is reinforced by the Edwards administration’s alleging draconian consequences from failing to accede to his wishes. Among other things, higher education would hold no summer classes, and Medicaid would end waiver programs that disabled people depend upon not only to live meaningful lives but, for some, to live at all.
Contingency plans like that reveal that the Edwards administration would rather reject an opportunity to mold government into an appropriate size than to engage in a serious policy discussion. Dropping all waiver programs would violate judicial settlements if not federal law; and institutions teach summer classes only if enough students sign up for them, so ditching summer school preemptively would save relatively little. These kinds of declarations serve only as scare tactics to frighten folks into boosting taxation.
The dishonesty of the Edwards administration becomes starker when considering the governor has the constitutional authority, with legislative assent, to make spending reductions of up to 5 percent on most state expenses. Do that, and Edwards could wipe out the entire current fiscal year deficit tomorrow.
Legislators should not let Edwards panic them into unnecessarily elevating marginal income tax and sales tax rates. Humility rather than obstinacy would increase Edwards’ policy-making effectiveness: working with Republicans to make cuts to bloated state government and maybe even agreeing with them on select revenue enhancements that pay for themselves in the short term, such as raising cigarette taxes. Always whining about how opposing you constitutes bad faith and ill serves the state guarantees Edwards a long and unproductive four years.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political of political science at LSU in Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.