There is evidently no room for any doubt about the wisdom of responding to a “fiscal cliff” with a “spending transparency website.”
It must make sense, for both Gov. John Bel Edwards and GOP legislators think this would be a good idea. Since those legislators devoutly wish that Southern Democrats were an even more endangered species than they are, any hint of agreement is worth a headline.
The terms are novel, but it's easy enough to figure out what they mean. A fiscal cliff is what used to be called a shortfall. The word no longer seems adequate because the state is missing a cool $1 billion-plus and it's a very long fall from here.
There is no need to guess either what might be seen on a spending transparency website, because the politicians who came up with the idea are known, on account of their hostility to taxes, as “fiscal hawks.” Since an unbalanced budget is not a constitutional option, it's cut services or raise taxes, and the fiscal hawks swooping around the fiscal cliff do not screech for the latter.
Eventually, we will plug the hole with a combination of the two; that's been obvious since we found ourselves in this latest hole two years ago. It is pathetic that here we are, on the verge of the legislative season, and our government still has no clue what the numbers will eventually look like.
Meanwhile, Edwards has been obliged to submit a budget on the assumption that the $1 billion will not be replaced. This is a fatuous exercise, because, if what is finally adopted looks anything like this, we had better stock up with canned food, throw a few guns in the trunk and head for the hills.
There is, in fact, no need to develop survivalist skills, because nobody has any fear that the legislature will ultimately embrace a budget that pretty much dismantles health care, education and law enforcement. Even the most dedicated fiscal hawk will think twice before destroying civilization.
That Edwards was even required to prepare a budget that nobody expects or wants to be implemented is an insanity that can only be blamed on those fiscal hawks. Their doctrinaire intransigence has only made the state's financial condition worse, sticking taxpayers with a bill for a legislative impasse that has been going on for two years.
A competent government would have agreed on a budget, in principle, at least, long before now. GOP legislators, of course, say it's Edwards's fault that we haven't, even while obstructing him at every turn. Edwards has come up with some proposals to raise the revenues we need, and they have not. Voters will not regard partisan sniping as an adequate substitute for a grown-up debate about public policy.
When the legislature responded to our last budget crisis by imposing a one-cent sales tax, to expire July 1 this year, a task force was established to recommend permanent measures to put the state budget on a sound footing. The legislature was thus armed with all the information needed to reform the tax structure at a special session last year, when Edwards adopted many of the task force's recommendations for a legislative package of reforms that included the elimination of exemptions and loopholes that make the Louisiana tax code grossly unfair.
The beneficiaries of that favored treatment naturally raised a squawk, and Edwards managed to ruffle even more feathers by proposing a new sales tax on business. His “commercial activity tax” died a swift death along with the task force recommendations.
Maybe legislators had a point when arguing that Edwards should do more by way of retrenchment, and perhaps more efficient use could be made of the revenues we have. But time has grown short and we need an immediate fix. It is now beyond dispute that some kind of revenue increases are an absolute must.
Tax bills cannot be considered in the regular sessions of even-numbered years, so now we must cough up for another special one if legislators are to adopt a budget that does not spell the ruination of Louisiana.
Last year's special session may have been a total waste of time because Republican legislators were reluctant to hand Edwards a success. Such is the childish condition of party politics. The first item on our spending transparency website should be the $60,000-a-day it will cost for legislators to conduct the business they should have disposed of last year.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.