After a decade of irresponsible budgeting and recurring crises, Gov. John Bel Edwards has won the argument at the State Capitol with one sentence: "This is entirely a self-inflicted wound."
Even as hard-right anti-Edwards members of the state House try and continue to stymie Edwards, whose tax and budget legislation is bottled up in two key committees controlled by the ultraconservatives, the wound festers.
It's an old wound, and it's not scabbed over yet. In 2002, the voters themselves — for whom legislators typically bow and scrape at every opportunity — passed the landmark Stelly tax reform plan. It cut some consumer taxes. But the budget-balancing part of the plan was an increase in income taxes, and that rubbed the more affluent taxpayers the wrong way.
Enter a decade of disaster, as GOP candidates railed against Stelly's provisions. They were gradually repealed during a time of hurricane recovery revenues flooding into the state Treasury. Those tax cuts, combined with increasing levels of corporate largesse irresponsibly boosted by business-backed legislators and chambers of commerce, undermined the state's financial situation. Just as the governor says.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal indulged in anti-tax rhetoric and paid the bills by using one-time money and tapping trust funds, such as that for highways, to prop up the diminished general fund. Drivers ought to curse his name daily.
But it is the reality that Louisiana's self-inflicted wound has only been patched over during two years of Edwards' administration, mainly through a sales tax increase but also through indirect taxes on business, levied willy-nilly without a rational assessment of which exemptions and credits should be retained or eliminated.
Restoring the income tax provisions of Stelly has been backed by expert panels, including conservatives nationally and in Louisiana, but the plain fact is that ideas don't matter: Legislators fear the wrath of the wealthier of their constituents.
Bandaging the wound for the good of the state appears beyond them, much less major surgery of the kind that would unsettle entrenched interest groups who pay for their expense-account steaks and campaign contributions.
Edwards' freshman-year vote for the ill-considered income tax cuts of 2008 can be held against him, but he has had the integrity to argue for restoring them as needed, as they unquestionably are. When Stelly's provisions were in full force — and Edwards has backed only limited versions of them this year — plutocrats were not collapsing on golf courses from the financial strain.
Fundamentally untruthful is the notion that restoring Stelly provisions is a tax increase. The 2016 tax increase on working families — a big new sales tax, for example — is only a shifting of the burden away from the people whom legislators really obey.
Hint: Not you and me.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.