With neither the governor nor state lawmakers eager for a special session, after being in session for months last spring amid budget woes, it still seems sensible to us that they should come back to the State Capitol before the next regular session in April.
Why? Because the budget isn’t fixed, not by a long shot, and more mid-year budget cuts loom for state agencies as well as colleges and universities.
Gov. John Bel Edwards says he has authority, with approval of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, to deal with most of the anticipated shortfall.
But as a matter of the constitution and law, the governor’s authority to cut is limited. This year, as in the past, most of the cuts would fall on health care and higher education.
With sharp cuts in state support for colleges and universities during the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, we don’t see how institutions are going to serve students well and retain key faculty with yet another round of reductions. If the Legislature can come into session and spread the pain around, colleges will still be cut, Edwards told the editorial board of The Advocate this week.
But he makes a reasonable case that it is not good policy to concentrate the cuts in the relatively few categories available to the executive branch.
Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said the legislative branch is trying to do its part by cutting its spending by $10 million, but those economies – state agencies were also warned by Edwards to trim spending earlier – are a drop in the bucket compared to the looming shortfalls.
Hoping that oil prices will rescue the budget is unrealistic, and the tax increases – many involving reductions in business tax breaks – have not produced enough money to balance the budget.
We would like to see more elimination of programs. The idea is that state government ought to make strategic decisions to not provide specific sets of services, so that activity matches revenues.
Unfortunately, Louisiana has set up its government to provide at the state level services that in most other states are provided by cities and counties, with local revenues from property taxes or other sources. That didn’t matter when oil and gas revenues paid most of the bill; it matters now, because personal and business taxes must increase to pay the bills, but it is politically difficult to jettison services.
Reform of state spending is in that way harder than raising taxes. That is just political reality.
Legislators may not want to share the responsibility for the current crisis, and may not want their names on specific budget cuts. But coming back in for a short, ugly Valentine’s Day session is the best way to approach this big budget problem.