Last week, freezing weather brought government here and in many parts of the country to a halt. The stoppage was strange but inevitable, part of a larger disruption that also touched the business and civic life of communities throughout the region.
This week, residents are witnessing a different kind of disruption in government, and this one is of our own making, crafted by the cynical posturing of those we’ve elected to represent us.
At the start of the weekend, the federal government initiated a partial shutdown because members of Congress, in collaboration with the president, couldn’t agree on an operating budget.
As that grim piece of political theater continued to unfold Monday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards unveiled a doomsday budget of drastic cuts to state agencies and higher education — a move made necessary because lawmakers haven’t agreed on a package of revenue measures to replace sales taxes that will soon expire. The proposed cuts outlined by Edwards — reductions he’s framed as a necessity rather than a choice — would effectively paralyze much of the work state government now does.
Though last week’s weather-related break in the work of government rightly felt like an aberration, there’s a danger that we might come to accept our latest, self-imposed obstacles to the missions of key public institutions as the new normal.
But such resignation cannot be the destiny of a democracy committed to advancing the interests its citizens.
That’s why we welcome the news of a compromise to keep the federal government operating in full. It’s imperfect, as most compromises are, and provisional, but it’s progress of the sort we need. The most powerful country on earth can’t put a “closed” sign on its doors.
We hope a similar spirit of compromise informs ongoing discussions between Edwards, a Democrat, and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature.
Given the partisan divides here and in the nation’s capitol, commentators will naturally speculate about which party stands to benefit the most in high-stakes budget confrontations.
But it’s already obvious who the real losers are. Those who stand to suffer the most are the citizens who depend on a government that works for them. That’s all of us.
Louisiana has much work to do in improving the lives of its residents. We’re already behind in key indicators that measure prosperity and quality of life. Government must never be sole author of our ambitions, but it is a key partner in the progress we have to make. Clearly, we need a state and federal government that’s open for business.
We hope our elected officials grasp that urgency — and act on principle, not political expedience.