On the budget, who are you going to believe, Cameron Henry or Jay Dardenne?
The question answers itself.
The former is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the latter is the former Senate Finance chairman who is now head of the state’s Division of Administration. Both are Republicans, Henry from Metairie and Dardenne from Baton Rouge.
Both are also students of the budget, Dardenne of course for much longer, and are generally popular with legislative staff because they are considerate of the worker bees with whom they work in the State Capitol.
And both, surprisingly, had a hand in completely busted budgets on the last day of a regular legislative session.
Dardenne’s was in 2000 when the revenue estimates had clouded and the legislative leadership, in a bipartisan fashion, decided that passing a budget at the last minute was not appropriate, and a short special session was required.
This year was completely different, as Henry is an ideological chieftain of the House GOP, refusing to defer to Senate-passed revisions of the budget. The Senate is a more pragmatic body, although also Republican-led, and 36 of 39 senators voted for the budget.
Dardenne told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the full House would probably have approved the Senate version, and it appears — as Gov. John Bel Edwards argued — that the leadership scuttled a last-minute vote not out of confusion, but to avoid losing face.
If so, the fissures on the House side of the GOP are the real story for the special session, clocking in at about $60,000 a day in needless costs and additional wear on weary legislators.
Dardenne gave a detailed exposition on how the House was wrong, including an emphasis on the structural as well as constitutional problems with the Henry budget. Partisanship in today’s form is part of the difficulty: “I took this job because I wanted to be part of a bipartisan solution to the problem,” he said.
Earlier in the session, Henry had a little exasperation of his own to vent. He told The Advocate’s editorial board that his folks wanted less spending, but Dardenne had criticized the committee’s strictures on what could be cut and what couldn’t.
Dardenne, probably reasonably, said the restrictions were both unworkable and intruded on the executive branch’s authority. But, Henry complained with some justice, “if we don’t tell them what to cut we’re called irresponsible. If we do, we are accused of micromanagement.”
The effect of the intransigence of the GOP leadership is that agencies are battered for no other reason than Henry and others get to claim scalps, in terms of cutting state spending. Dardenne, a conservative, says there are needless House cuts, and the Edwards administration has already cut many agencies, and corrected many of the poor budget practices under former Gov. Bobby Jindal — often backed, then, by GOP sycophants in the House.
Will there be a resolution of these differing views of the elephant? The budget bill has to start in the House, and Henry pushes his own bill without regard to how long the process will take. Given the public displeasure at the cratering of the regular session without a budget, Henry might drive all 39 senators into the administration’s corner this time. But then what will the deeply divided House do? Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, might be wondering if this brinkmanship is politically safe for his members and his own position over the chamber.