Officially, governors never do such things as trading state projects for votes in the Legislature. That would be wrong.
But it sure warms the legislative atmosphere when lawmakers, whether or not in the governor's fan club on other issues, can show that they are bringing home the bacon for their constituents, whom they will shortly ask for re-election — or, given the large number of term-limited representatives, seek a Senate seat or another office in 2019.
Today, it could hardly be said to be a warm and fuzzy atmosphere in the State Capitol. GOP hard-liners in the state House, unlike the Senate, appear to be adamant about anything close to Gov. John Bel Edwards' ideas for a budget compromise. But if you look at projects, or the prospects of more of them, or Edwards' own initiatives in the last few weeks, there could be underlying political factors that make compromise more possible in the current budget impasse.
Edwards and the 2018 Legislature will have about a $120 million surplus from fiscal 2016-17, and some of that may well be used for one-time projects. This governor, like others before him, can strike items from the construction budget almost at will, because legislators can never agree among themselves to focus those bills on just a few projects. He sorts them out later.
One of the key arguments against drastic budget cuts is one that may not seem so important to outsiders but is vital to project-oriented legislators. State borrowing is limited in the Louisiana Constitution, and a severely reduced budget can't support new projects. With the 2019 elections coming, that's a powerful incentive for even the most die-hard lawmakers to think about budget compromise.
And finally, Edwards is himself showing re-election savvy. By issuing a borrowing device called GARVEE bonds (don't ask!) he is generating $600 million for major projects in three corners of the state: the new airport terminal exit in New Orleans, the interstate in Baton Rouge and a new Interstate 20 exit for Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport-Bossier City.
The bonds will require repayment from anticipated federal highway money coming to the state over the next 12 years. That is something of robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is why only about half the states have used GARVEE bonds.
Still, the projects are widely thought to be worthy and needed. They show that the state is working on the priorities of differing sections of the state. And the work will be going on or near completion as the governor himself seeks re-election in 2019.
The governor currently boasts a 65 percent approval rating in a late November poll by Southern Media and Opinion Research. That will affect legislators' views, too.
There are good reasons on the merits for the Legislature to agree to all or most of the long-term tax plans recommended last year by a panel of experts. The governor is backing some of them. As Edwards is eager to note, nobody thinks our system is efficient or effective in today's world; an overhaul of the tax system is long overdue.
But aside from those pure merits, the political implications of a governor showing he is getting things done in vote-rich metropolitan areas is a lesson in practical politics that members of the Legislature are probably not going to miss.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.