Cameron Henry listening to OGB presentation

Louisiana House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, listens Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 to administration officials explain a life insurance rate increase for state employees and retirees. Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, is in the foreground.

Advocate photo by Mark Ballard

When you talk about the State Capitol becoming as bad as the nation's Capitol for wrangling, add to the list of similarities a growing disdain for the referees, particularly from the GOP coaches at both levels of the game.

In Washington, a new tax bill is going to sink America further, by $1 trillion at least, into the pit of debt. A constant refrain by President Donald Trump and his backers, like U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, is that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is wrong about that $1 trillion or more forecast debt increase.

"As regards to debt and deficit, for example, this bill was scored (by CBO) as if our gross domestic product would only grow by 1.9 percent over 10 years," Cassidy said on Fox News. "We’ve already had two quarters of over 3 percent growth; (we’re) projected to have another 3 percent growth next quarter. If we just raise growth to 2.4 or 2.5 percent, the increased growth of our economy, with therefore more tax revenue, pays for itself. Now, that addresses the debt and deficit issue."

It does if you believe in Voodoo Economics 2.0, which is the basis for cutting taxes during a period of economic growth. We should instead now be paying down the national debt. But what is increasingly worrisome is when responsible officials like Cassidy constantly denigrate the projections of nonpartisan experts.

This is ideology that ignores all the factors that CBO and others figure into their forecasts, few of them favorable to the bill Cassidy voted for.

In Baton Rouge, one of the trends of the GOP criticisms of Gov. John Bel Edwards and the budget is that forecasts are wrong, that the various instruments created over decades to deal with Louisiana's chronic overspending are part of the problem instead of possible solutions.

Fiscal reforms included creation of a Revenue Estimating Conference, a board requiring unanimous agreement on tax forecasts before lawmakers can spend the money. During the national recession of the last decade, Louisiana's forecasts were off, although not as much as many other states, even though our state has a more volatile tax system because of energy prices and poor budget decisions over decades.

Arguing for budget cuts up front this year, the GOP's state budget leader blamed the messenger: “We cannot spend 100 percent of a wrong number,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said repeatedly during 2017's budget debates.

In a Legislature filled largely with new members, few recall how during Gov. Edwin Edwards' day the budget would be balanced simply by the leadership deciding that the price of oil would be up next year. REC and other mechanisms were created to avoid that kind of irresponsibility.

The right number was what the governor said it was. Should we go back to that system?

In fact, we essentially did during former Gov. Bobby Jindal's two terms, when every loose dollar of one-time money was shoveled into the operating budget. The governor was telling a compliant Legislature — Henry and others in their third terms were there — what the right "recurring" revenue number was.

And the shortfalls blossomed, now blamed on the REC instead of fiscal mismanagement at the top.

As the holidays loom, there are continuing meetings and conversations among lawmakers about comprehensive reforms to the state's insanely broken tax system. A special House meeting was called earlier in the fall so that economists and others could brief members on the data. But one wonders if a solution is possible, with the coaches trying to blame the referees for the penalties.

In government, faith without data is dead.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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