With the investment of a full year or more of campaigning, and millions of dollars in ads, it’s a bit too late for John Bel Edwards to back out.
Such is the hubris of politicians, though, that he still wants to be governor — when the state is facing a cascade of past-due bills from the outgoing administration.
Just days before the runoff election, the Revenue Estimating Conference met and officially “recognized” what many observers of the state’s economy saw coming: Revenues are down.
There were two big bills, the largest at $370 million that is budgeted to be spent this fiscal year. Another $117 million was a leftover deficit from the previous fiscal year that ended June 30.
Collections of taxes for corporate and individual income, sales and those related to the price of oil and natural gas, all have come in far lower than anticipated, prompting REC to officially lower the amount of money available for state government spending.
Like Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who chairs the REC, we’re disappointed in the numbers. But we’ve not had much faith in the budget that was adopted by Alario and other members of the Legislature in June; forecasts of oil prices at about 50 percent higher than they actually are made the Fiscal Year 2016 budget pretty much a dead letter as it was being adopted.
That impact is made worse by the profligate financial policies of the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The latest of Jindal’s commissioners of administration, Stafford Palmieri, presented a series of cuts that the governor can make on his own authority. Tapping the “rainy day fund,” the state’s reserves, requires a mail ballot of members of the Legislature.
Despite the opposition of both runoff candidates for governor, Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the Legislature’s budget committee approved the short-term fixes proposed by Palmieri.
At almost half a billion, the “adjustments” and “corrections” involve a good bit of the state general fund, which is half or less of the roughly $25 billion state spending plan.
The reality is that the “adjustments” by the administration just built up another IOU: The administration is using cash from Medicaid funds, money that the state health department was going to apply last month to shortfalls in the health budget.
Edwards is no rookie in this financial shell game, having watched Jindal’s budget magic at work for eight years. When Gov.-elect Edwards takes office, we doubt he’ll be surprised at the problem, but the recent budget cuts are another and severe warning that righting the Jindal-led ship will be a difficult undertaking.