Movie fans are apt to wear out their copies of the classic “Casablanca,” but we’ll have a thousand occasions to quote Claude Rains this year on the state budget crisis: Legislators are shocked — Shocked! — to find that there is deficit spending going on here.
The parallels from fiction, alas, do not stop there in today’s State Capitol.
Rains stuffed his winnings into his pocket even as he was using gambling as his excuse for closing down the Café Americain.
Are the legislators who blindly followed former Gov. Bobby Jindal now any less hypocritical? No, in fact they are just as shameless as ever.
“How do we have any comfort at all in knowing the numbers that we are hearing and seeing today is accurate?” asked Sen. Jim Fannin, a Jonesboro Republican who previously led the House Appropriations Committee, at a shocking — Shocking! — hearing on the budget. “I’m just trying to figure out a confidence level in the numbers I’m seeing today.”
This is your crisis, Mr. Fannin. You led, in the most gentlemanly way possible, the appropriations process into a debacle.
The state is nearly bankrupt, not in the sense of having no money — Fannin and others took care of favored political items all along — but in the sense of spending tons of money on low-priority items, and simultaneously being unable to pay the bills for health care entitlements, public universities or other obligations.
To Fannin’s credit, he and some other Republicans joined with Democrats in a couple of sessions to mitigate the damage done by Jindal policies.
John Bel Edwards, then a representative and now governor, helped put together the coalitions to make some progress during the Jindal years, but those opportunities were few and far between.
Again and again, though, the leadership accepted Jindal’s minions before the Appropriations Committee showing income to the state that didn’t exist, pledging budget cuts that never occurred, raiding trust funds and other accounts to paper over the red numbers.
The reality is that people who “own” this crisis have absolutely no room to prattle on about fiscal responsibility. Hypocritical meanderings about how bad things turned out to be don’t even rise to the level of adulthood but are the childish spoutings of the irresponsible.
Fannin’s successor at Appropriations is Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who can hardly do worse, now.
But the one thing we hope he doesn’t do, without good reasoning, is cast hypocritical criticism on Edwards’ numbers as if he’s been operating on good data during the Jindal years.
The budget numbers are bad in large part because this year’s budget-builders in the Legislature failed almost completely in earlier years.
Humility, not hypocrisy, is called for.