In a guest column for The Advocate, Gov. John Bel Edwards last Sunday put a number to the pain to be felt if there is not a resolution of the budget crisis in the State Capitol: $2.8 billion.
That is, of course, much more than the typical number of $1 billion to $1.5 billion often discussed, called the “fiscal cliff.” It’s a larger number because it includes federal funds that Louisiana would ordinarily get if it had the state cash to match the grants from Washington, D.C.
Edwards as required by law and the Louisiana Constitution will propose a budget for the coming fiscal year beginning July 1. We don’t see this as a scare tactic, since the governor has made in clear in many speeches and statements that this is “not a budget that I support or want to implement.”
By law, the budget has to be based on revenues that will be in effect on July 1. Is that an estimate? There is always some level of guesswork built into a budget. But that variation is really small compared to the failure of the Legislature so far to make permanent, or replace, the more than $1 billion in general fund taxes expiring on June 30.
A chronic fiscal problem long predated Edwards’ election in 2015 because of poor decisions by the prior administration and legislators, many of whom now vaguely suggest that the gimmicks and budgetary tricks of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s day should be revised and extended now.
With all due respect to lawmakers who feel threatened by the voters if they approve taxes, even to replace existing revenues, the fact is that something has got to change.
The governor makes only the first move in the annual budget process. The Legislature can and should make constructive changes. Because of an improving economy, there’s a little bit of give in the budget. The governor has proposed his own and largely sensible framework for fixing the revenue cliff, but other ideas may be possible.
What cannot continue is a budget crisis that is ultimately about failure to make decisions, other than rejecting reasonable proposals to improve Louisiana’s clunky state tax system.
What the budget statement will reflect is what legislators, by a political sin of omission, have made legally necessary.
Because of the restrictions placed in the Louisiana Constitution over many years, again predating Edwards' time as governor, the fact is that most cuts, if enacted, would fall on state colleges and universities, or directly on students through tuition increases — and on health care, through cutbacks in services.
Those federal matches that Edwards factors into the budget equation are not painless, but reflect an additional billion or more dollars taken from doctors and hospitals, nurses and ambulance drivers, home health aides and more.
It’s too high a cost to pay. The Legislature should take note.