We search for the good news to justify Gov. John Bel Edwards’ upbeat quotes about the tremendous progress achieved in three grueling sessions of the Louisiana Legislature.
Tremendous, in time spent: Lawmakers are really ready to go home after having been in almost continuous sessions since Mardi Gras.
Progress, in that the state has started a painful transition away from the past eight years of funny money and budget gimmicks that marred former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s terms.
But tremendous progress? This year does not show us that.
Edwards starts his term in office having to make budget cuts beginning July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. For a Democrat who believes in the value of government services, he is, by circumstances not of his control, tasked with cutting more out of agencies already damaged by Jindal’s policies.
He really can’t see that as tremendous progress.
Taxes have been raised in a patchwork fashion, with the budget not only short in the new fiscal year. Within two years, most of the taxes passed will expire, creating a budgetary cliff that the state can all too easily topple over into crisis in 2018.
While consumers will pay new taxes in various ways, sweeping reductions in business tax credits also were passed by lawmakers, with the consequence that people will pay some of the costs of government indirectly, as sellers of cigarettes or sellers of insurance policies alike will have to pass on the levies to customers.
Obviously, the modest households of the working poor will suffer most from Louisiana’s crowning fiscal achievement, the highest sales taxes in the nation.
The ship of state is not sinking yet, but it’s still taking on water, and the positive developments have been few. One of them, though, is expansion of Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor hit hardest by rising medical care costs.
All the difficulties raised by the budget will have to be sorted out over the next few weeks, but one problem that is more obvious to insiders at the State Capitol is the poisonous relations between the parties and between the House and Senate leaders.
The year began with a new GOP House electing its own speaker, in defiance of the governor’s wishes. Over half a year, all we’ve seen out of Republican lawmakers has been defiance because it’s easy to bang the political drum against tax increases. Less obvious, because they are so few, are GOP ideas that amount to a practical agenda in Baton Rouge.
It’s hard to cut government, to build coalitions that will agree to change what government does. In fairness to the GOP leaders, they did not realize that the speakership would be theirs until late in the day; Edwards himself has not yet really got a grip on the executive side of government, having been pitched into legislative budget crisis from day one.
Everybody is tired now. But fatigue is no excuse for failure when Louisiana is still governed in a fashion worthy of a Middle Eastern state that has run out of oil.
Tremendous progress? Not what we see.