Gov. John Bel Edwards does not seem destined to turn into an all-star governor, but he does have a quality that mirrors some of the best position players in football or baseball: selective amnesia.
The best cornerbacks and safeties quickly forget their failures when beaten on long touchdown passes, and superior pitchers shake off homers to concentrate on the next batter.
In Edwards’ case, when it politically does not suit him, he relegates to his memory dustbin his campaign rhetoric about fiscal policy, past actions as a legislator and that the buck stops with the governor in taking responsibility for his actions.
Edwards put this talent on display when revealing his fiscal plan designed to eradicate Louisiana’s current fiscal year deficit, which his administration now pegs at $750 million.
During the campaign, Edwards said the only tax increases would come from eliminating what he designated as unproductive tax exceptions, and he also decried the use of nonrecurring money for operating expenses. As a state legislator, he railed against tax changes that would have hiked the sales tax rate in the aggregate to the nation’s highest.
Yet the first petition Edwards made to address the deficit involved increasing the sales tax to the nation’s highest rate. He also proposed vacuuming nonrecurring money out of the rainy day fund and capturing nonrecurring dollars not devoted to coastal restoration from the 2010 BP oil spill disaster compensation.
Finally, his administration recommended balancing the budget by raising the cigarette tax, unlocking parts of dedicated funds and slicing into or eradicating tax exemptions he thought fiscally suspect.
All the while, Edwards claimed the devil made him do it, that his predecessor’s budgeting had forced him into this position while conveniently forgetting he had voted for five of the last eight such spending plans.
His functionaries also seemed to forget — or perhaps they never had realized — that the state had promised the compensatory money to fulfill another court settlement that forces paying back previous draws on the fund that the state unconstitutionally had neglected.
As it is, the state doesn’t need the bad medicine Edwards wishes to spoon out. Constitutionally, the governor, in this situation, can cut almost every state expense up to 5 percent (1 percent for elementary and secondary education) with approval of the Legislature or its Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
To show this approach’s merit, let’s assume unavailability of the compensation, and, because Edwards issued dire words about cutting health care and higher education, let’s exempt those areas from reductions as well.
Cutting everything else plus allowable withdrawing from the fund erases almost $500 million of red ink. The remaining gap can disappear from debts collected by the Office of Motor Vehicles’ controversial recovery plan; from an accelerated end to the wasteful solar installation tax credit; by excising the fraud-ridden and inefficient state Earned Income Tax Credit; and by canceling the most wasteful exception of them all: the film tax credit that pays back less than a quarter of every dollar given away to make movies. Some dollars already have gone out the door for these three credits.
Louisiana bureaucrats have the experience and intelligence to shave about 12 percent (given that over half the fiscal year has progressed) of budgets they have left through June without significant service interruptions. Those unproductive tax credits should be terminated by the governor and lawmakers as soon as possible.
Policymakers who bleat the necessity of another tax increase on the scale of last year’s put growing government ahead of the people’s right to keep more of what they earn.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political of political science at LSU in Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.