Senate President John Alario came out of the meeting last week shaking his head.
After hearing the tax collection and royalty numbers presented from different points of view, the Revenue Estimating Conference, which he chairs, officially determined the state needs to come up with almost $500 million, or cut spending, to rebalance this year’s budget.
The Westwego Republican has been in the Legislature since the two gubernatorial candidates were in elementary school. He repeated his often-said prognosis that the new governor is going to have to “celebrate quickly.”
The crises facing Louisiana are lining up one right after the other and look like a weather map during a particularly bad hurricane season.
First up is fixing this year’s spending plan. Then, they need to get started on next year’s budget, which starts on July 1 and already is about $1 billion out of whack. And that’s before tackling the fiscal structure that has led to an annual budget emergency.
Alario also is quick to point out that the deficit is not the only gap that needs bridging. The new governor will have to mend fences and quickly build a coalition between factions that haven’t agreed on much during the past eight years.
How does the new governor build a coalition between businessmen who consider exemptions and deductions to taxes as entitlements and the lawmakers who liken the economic development incentives as giving out free milk instead of insisting on the purchase of a cow?
And what of Medicaid, the government program for the poor that insures about one-fourth of the state’s population, leaving hundreds of thousands of low-income working folk without coverage? How does the new governor expand Medicaid without appearing to go along with President Barack Obama — who is much reviled in some quarters?
Accommodation to differing points of view hasn’t been a hallmark of the yearlong campaign that was full of angry finger-pointing.
Going into the final few weeks, candidates and their PACs had spent $30 million or roughly $7 on each person in the state. And the receipts aren’t all in yet. Given the number of mud-slinging ads on the television and nasty mailers on the doorstep, the 2015 election should easily be the most expensive, by far, in Louisiana history.
The yearlong debates and forums have never been reasoned discussions about problems with details of alternatives presented for studied consideration. Rather, the discourse has focused on snide sloganeering and reductio ad absurdum — following a position to absurdity, and then mocking the results.
Even that level of discourse fell by the wayside during the final televised debate last week. Instead, the two candidates mostly yelled over each other and called each other “liars” while hooting supporters drowned out much of the discourse for television viewers.
For the national media, which arrived in town to do their Louisiana’s politics “spicy as their gumbo” stories on the governor’s race, the whole scene was a good descriptive vignette underscoring Louisiana’s reputation as the northernmost banana republic.
It’s kind of tough to let bygones be bygones after calling a man out in front of his children for a decades-old prostitution scandal, as was the case for one candidate, or having every utterance and personal decision termed “evil,” as the other candidate endured. (This year’s campaign gives a kind of whimsical air to Bobby Jindal’s pouting over an opponent in 2007 carrying around a life-sized cut-out of him.)
Most people focused on the horse race aspects of the polls released during the last week of campaigning. But an interesting nugget shared by most of the surveys is how polarized the two sides have become.
For instance, the daily rushes taken by Market Research Insight found that 80 percent of Vitter’s supporters hold “unfavorable” views of Edwards, while 84 percent of Edwards’ backers think of Vitter in unfavorable terms.
Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, who is of Alario’s generation, acknowledged that this campaign has been particularly vicious.
But the nation has weathered a lot of nasty elections going back to 1800 when the factions of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams threatened to organize militias to seize the government.
The point is, Breaux said, the situation in Louisiana has become so dire that both sides are just going to have to get over it and find some common ground.
“This is Louisiana and not Washington,” Breaux said. “This election is about what’s best in Baton Rouge. Nobody wants to bring the gridlock in Washington and insert it here.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and is on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.