In Baton Rouge last Friday, LSU and Southern University held spring commencement ceremonies, a time when graduates are urged to put away the things of childhood and think seriously about the world.
Meanwhile, at the State Capitol just a few miles away, lawmakers were putting the finishing touches on what was called a “pretend budget.” The contrast could not have been more ironic. As throngs of young men and women in caps and gowns were told to reflect with seriousness of purpose about their future, the leaders we elect to represent us at the Legislature were engaging in a literal game of make-believe — and doing so with straight faces. That’s what the political culture of state government has come to: supposedly adult men and women confronting a fiscal crisis with the kind of fanciful thinking we typically expect of 4-year-olds.
The inspiration for this fairy-tale fiscal charade is well-known to anyone who’s lived in Louisiana the past few years. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budgetary policies, crafted for the consumption of primary voters in his doomed presidential campaign rather than the good of Louisiana, left state government finances teetering on collapse when his successor, John Bel Edwards, took office in 2016.
Edwards and legislators agreed to a package of temporary tax increases to buy time for true fiscal reform, which never materialized as Edwards, a Democrat, butted heads with the GOP House leadership. Those taxes are falling off the books in June. Lawmakers, including many in denial about the need to make up the lost revenue, advanced a budget last week that eliminates operating funds for things like meat inspections, state parks and veterans cemeteries.
No reasonable member of the Legislature expects that budget to stand, and Edwards has called yet another special session to address the mess.
Meanwhile, the season’s new graduates are deciding where to begin their careers, and they’ve been encouraged to think for the long term. But within the halls of state government, elected officials can’t seem to think past tomorrow, as they play political games while Louisiana languishes.
Is it any wonder that so many of this year’s graduates will end up moving out of state, never to return as residents?
Lawmakers can pretend all they want, but reality has a way of catching up with deluded disciples of magical thinking. For the latest graduates seeking opportunities here, that reality is already sadly clear.