No one can be absolutely sure that state government emerges whole from the chaos of this year’s budget crisis. What have lawmakers wrought? A slew of short-term patches over long-term problems.
And the short term might be really short, in months, much less than the 12 months of the financial year beginning July 1.
First, though, the good news: After a string of budgets based on one-time money and dubious schemes to raid trust funds and other revenue sources, the Legislature faced up to financial reality and raised revenues to pay the state’s bills.
This wasn’t easy in an election year. Lawmakers looked over their shoulders a lot, but the threat of yet more cuts to higher education and health care caused them to balk at the original proposals from Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The revenue-raisers are a really mixed bag of trimming back some overly generous tax breaks of the past few years and a modest increase in the tax on cigarettes.
Some of the tax breaks trimmed back were overdue for a correction, including movie tax credits; in most cases the cuts are across-the-board percentage cuts in business breaks.
Most of this does not add up to a coherent policy, but it gets the lawmakers through the fall elections. Lawmakers also gave, via a last-day vote in the House, a way for Jindal to boast in his expected presidential campaign that as governor he did not raise taxes overall.
Not really true, as there are numerous Jindal-era fees that are really taxes by another name, including this year’s increases in college tuition and an increase in the title fee for car buyers.
But the big talking point is a completely dishonest fee/credit scheme for college students that isn’t actually collected by the state, but merely performed as an accounting maneuver.
We’re not sure this will pass the smell test of the federal government, which might very well find a tax liability for the recipients of this “credit.” But for Jindal, it’s a way to raise revenues to patch his last budget without admitting that taxes went up on his watch.
Again, what’s the long-term prospect? The long term won’t even be February for some of the bills that have been produced this month amid so much breast beating by lawmakers.
That is because a new governor and Legislature will be elected by November and the patchwork of the budget might fail even before then. In any case, a tax reform session is being pledged by major candidates for governor early next year.
Tax reform is needed, and the new budget passed Thursday makes that clear.
It’s a halfway budget.
Louisiana has been a laboratory for fiscal mismanagement under Jindal. Lawmakers cheerfully acquiesced for years, but better late than never, they have generated a rickety financial alternative to disastrous cutbacks to higher education and to health care.
The underlying problems remain. We as a state ought to do a lot better.