Division of Administration Commissioner Jay Dardenne listens as questions are addressed to Gov. John Bel Edwards, during the Givernor's appearance before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before his plan was presented to address the $304 million budget deficit for the current year, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 at the State Capitol.


The late John Maginnis knew the culture of the State Capitol as well as anybody. "If you're not getting something for nothing," he would say, "then you're not getting your fair share."

That truth takes on new meaning as partisan Washington-style politics divides the Legislature, now ending a special session that should have been slam-dunk easy. Instead it's a nine-day wrangle that further erodes whatever sense of common purpose has been left.

And ironically, those who are most playing the anti-tax political game of former Gov. Bobby Jindal are the same Republicans eager for local projects and favors from the state government they injure.

With a budget hole of around $300 million, and the fiscal year ending in June, the obvious path was to tap the state's savings account and salvage what was left of the current budget. Then lawmakers could deal more substantively with the fiscal 2018 budget in the regular session beginning in April. Administratively — a word that leaders of the House appear not to grasp — last-minute cuts like this are difficult to do.

Reality has had to reckon with the partisan agenda of the House GOP caucus, nominally led by Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia. The real power is in the House Appropriations Committee, where Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and his members have taken to extremes the notion that it is the duty of the opposition to oppose.

A deal to end the session includes Gov. John Bel Edwards giving up some of the rainy day funds he sought to tap, and taking a few cuts in the budget that he did not want; Edwards backed a Senate-brokered deal that is closer to the governor's wishes than Henry and others sought.

The process, though, has been more about politics than policy. Once Edwards, a Democrat, called the special session, the House caucus was in high dudgeon about using the rainy day fund. Appropriations members picked a fight, and quite a hypocritical one: That was only one of many short-term expedients, dodges and dubious budget practices most of them willingly endorsed when Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, was in office.

An acrimonious meeting of Appropriations turned on a fellow Republican, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a longtime senator and state official who actually understands the budget that House members muck around in.

But the hypocrisy does not end with that: The members of the House, in particular, are obstacles to any and all revenue-raising proposals, which will be necessary in April to right the ship. They'll also have to address longer-term reforms in the tax code.

One of Edwards' appointees, highways chief Shawn Wilson, wryly told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday about members of the House calling to ask for overlay projects in their districts the same week that they were voting to cut the budget of the Department of Transportation and Development.

The governor has cited similar requests, as Maginnis' insight into the legislative character could have foretold.

It is not clear if Edwards, a newcomer to high office, will grasp the powers he has in executive departments. Members of House and Senate want a lot, seemingly oblivious to connecting their anti-government rhetoric with their give-it-to-me attitudes toward Edwards-headed departments. Surely, the state has not thrown away the wastebaskets that Jindal's appointees used for the requests of those bucking the governor's agenda.

Edwards' retiring chief of staff, Ben Nevers of Bogalusa, was an influential senator but not one known for smiting the unrighteous. The special session has been a relatively small chapter in the story of the operations of the state government, but it could have more profound consequences now that such a sharp partisan line has been drawn in the House.

The voters in Louisiana endorsed draining the swamp in Washington in the November presidential election. Meanwhile, in their intransigence, state lawmakers are in the process of making a bog of their own.

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