“Instead of solving our budget problems, the state turned to gimmicks, short-term fixes and over $700 million in tax hikes on individuals and businesses.” That is only half-right, so it’s within the realm of possibility for a political ad.
What that statement ignores is the legitimate reasons for tax increases by the Legislature that just left the State Capitol and the woeful failure of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s financial management of the state.
The new radio ad is from the Louisiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the group best known for its support from the billionaire conservative Koch brothers.
Ironically, AFP is attacking the lawmakers who have, for years, backed Jindal and his “conservative” state financial agenda, which led the budget into the ditch, forcing harder choices on lawmakers facing a $1.6 billion shortfall this spring.
It is the gap between Jindal’s conservative rhetoric and budget reality that has resulted in years of gimmicks and short-term fixes, even as the state has generously reduced taxes — on individuals as well as on businesses.
The AFP’s list of key votes (LouisianaScorecard.com) includes this year’s rollbacks of a small portion of the business tax breaks — amounting to billions in reduced taxes — granted since 2008, when Jindal and most lawmakers took office.
If they should be indicted on the radio, it should be for failing to preserve the state’s tax base and instead pandering to Jindal and business lobbies who promoted illusions of prosperity via tax breaks for the well-off.
Louisianians aren’t feeling prosperous now, and if families have a child in college, they’re even less so because of vast increases in tuition and fees by Jindal and these same legislators.
It seems cruel to criticize lawmakers who lacked the spine to oppose Jindal for years for now growing backbones enough to seek to balance the budget for real, instead of through gimmicks and short-term fixes, as AFP so rightly puts it.
We’d have liked to have seen more budget cuts in some areas in 2015, but many of the expenditures of state government are, like the tax credits and exemptions, precious to politically influential groups and their lobbyists. Few lawmakers are brave enough, and the Governor’s Office certainly wasn’t brave enough, to cut back on political benefits such as state aid for the pay of local police or eliminating state funding of local construction projects or cutting back on the state-maintained roads that in other states are the responsibility of local government.
Even the costly Medicaid program, providing limited health insurance to the poor, has a constituency: not the poor, who matter little in the State Capitol, but doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and nursing home owners.
We’d be happier with critics of legislators across the board if specific budget cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars can be identified and fought for, but rarely are those brought up. Instead, there are gimmicky sound bites about fewer state contracts (Treasurer John N. Kennedy) or small-bore pledges like reducing the state truck fleet (gubernatorial candidate David Vitter).
What AFP hasn’t proposed, what Jindal hasn’t proposed, is a truly conservative policy of paying the bills we have and systematically transferring power — and revenues — away from state government down to the local level. Nor is there a specific and achievable plan from the business community about how to cut large sums from the budget.
That will take a lot of guts, obviously more than the current legislators have, but it seems more than a little unfair to pillory legislators at this late date for waking up to the problems of their budget gimmicks and short-term fixes.