As yet another special session of the Legislature is amply demonstrating, Louisiana's withdrawal from its addiction to oil and gas revenues continues to shape the state budget quagmire.
In fiscal year 1982, just over 42 percent of the state general fund was from oil and gas revenues. Mineral revenues alone counted for almost half the budget.
Now, mineral revenues are projected at one-tenth, or maybe a little more than that, in the budget that is before the Legislature today.
In the old days, state government seemed primarliy an open faucet flowing out oil money. The largesse from Baton Rouge funded charity hospitals, local as well as state roads and buildings, grants to local governments, and ultra-cheap tuition at our numerous colleges, among other benefits.
Over the course of a generation or so, Louisiana's oil and gas bonanza has had significant ups and downs, with catastrophic impacts on the state economy.
Subsequent boomlets also came along with hurricane recovery revenues, as with the post-Katrina period when thousands of people were buying cars, houses, and refrigerators, along with supplies for rebuilding homes and businesses.
Louisiana has spent freely in good times, like a fiscal junkie indulging a fix.
In harder times, the state has reluctantly had to raise various taxes on businesses and individuals, although not with any great consistency or long-term financial commitment. Louisiana typically ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of state and local tax burden among the states. In a normal state, we'd worry about paying the bills, too, but we wouldn't be worrying about paying the salaries of local cops or other burdens taken on by state government. Cities and parishes have been used to not paying for their own needs, and now there's not enough money in the bank.
Today's crisis in the State Capitol involves disputes over the non-mineral revenues that are nine out of 10 of the dollars in the general fund. But the numerous grants of state revenues to locals have never gone away, nor have most of the tax breaks to businesses and individuals, and despite a game plan for rationalizing the state tax system, lawmakers refuse to do any heavy lifting.
Those who don't want to pay the bills are not fiscal conservatives. They're in denial, waiting for an oil boom to save them from their own poor judgment.