In naming the first two members of his cabinet, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards has selected key players in the toughest fight he’s going to face — the battle of the budget.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne will be the new governor’s commissioner of administration. Kim Robinson, a former aide to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, will be secretary of the Department of Revenue.
We welcome them, not only because they are familiar veterans in government, but because they will have to tackle a state reeling from financial mismanagement during the two terms of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Both appointments are likely to be welcomed in the Legislature, Dardenne in particular returning to the budget issues he faced as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Both appointments are also likely to be welcomed by the state’s hard-pressed higher education community. Steep cuts — the deepest in the nation, Edwards said on the campaign trail — have hurt colleges and universities.
At the point of the new battle will be the Division of Administration, which is the budget office for Edwards. Revenue, though, is also central to the issues because Louisiana officials must unwrap a complex web of tax exemptions and breaks that have eroded the state’s tax base under Jindal.
In the 2015 Legislature, suspensions of some of the breaks were approved to bring in more revenue. The problem was that people with tax breaks rushed to cash them in before they were restricted, meaning that Revenue got less than legislators anticipated.
In the short term, Dardenne and Robinson must prepare for a planned February special session. The spaghetti of tax breaks and exemptions will be on the table once again.
That these are two experienced hands will help them master the numbers in time, but the problems of state revenue loss — cataloged last year in The Advocate’s series “Giving Away Louisiana” — also require some long-term thinking.
It is the opposite of financial responsibility to cut taxes and subsequently fail to pay the bills, but Jindal has hurt the financial outlook for the state not only this year but in future years, because the tax base has been reduced.
Bringing financial responsibility back is going to be a tough battle for the new administration, but we are hopeful that lawmakers — even those returning, who share some responsibility for Jindal’s policies in the last two terms — are ready for a break with the past.
The desire to avoid more budget gimmicks and mid-year cuts, returning order to taxing and spending in the State Capitol, is something that Edwards and his team can work with.