Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards likes to raise taxes and spend money. He's successfully convinced Republican legislators to raise more than $7 billion in new taxes in the short time he's been governor. If the tax burden were distributed evenly, that would come out to more than $1,500 per resident. He tried to raise twice that much, but state House Republicans would not play along. Now, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, known as a fiscal hawk, is getting in the governor's plans to once again spend money.
Henry, sitting in on the state's Revenue Estimating Conference for Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras, voted against approving money based on a projected increase in revenue by state economists. Henry says Barras would have also voted against using the projected increase.
The REC, which must approve projected increases in state income before they're spent, is also made up of Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and LSU economist Jim Richardson. All members must vote in favor of the budget estimate for it to be approved.
Henry's vote means Edwards won't have the projected additional funds to spend right away. Henry argued for waiting to see if the projected revenue increase materializes before spending it. Imagine that: Waiting until you know you have the money before spending it. How ungovernment-like of Henry.
He told me the economists testifying before the REC have an impossible job because they're forecasting something that changes every time the state changes the tax code. And he says he vetoed spending the projected increase because each of the economists had their own reservations about some of their own numbers.
“What if the economists are wrong by a significant amount?” Henry asked. “The more information we have, the better budget we’re going to have. We all should want that.”
Edwards called Henry's veto vote an “unprecedented political ploy,” which is rich coming from him. Edwards pulled off the mother of all “political ploys” when he sent eviction notices to seniors living in nursing homes this year, using it as leverage to force House Republicans to raise taxes.
Unless the governor honestly planned on cutting the budget by evicting nursing home seniors, it's an obvious stunt. And if that was his plan, he would have had to consider nursing home seniors less important than subsidizing Hollywood with film credits, paying the college tuition of kids whose parents make more than six figures, or the hundreds of millions in subsidies through the years the state has given Louisiana's richest family, the Bensons. But Edwards never intended to evict nursing home patients, proving he's a master of "political ploys." He was willing to allow seniors to fear they'd be out on the streets just to get his tax increase. It wasn't just a political ploy; it was diabolical. What's stunning is his arrogance and hypocrisy daring to accuse anyone else of using a political ploy.
The governor says he wants to use some of the projected increase to give teachers a raise, among other spending. Henry says he supports teacher pay raises but wants to wait to see if the state can afford them.
Edwards should have lost credibility long ago when it comes to budget projections. His description of the size of the so-called fiscal cliff changed constantly from $1.6 billion to a little more than half a million dollars. Each time Republicans delayed his call for new taxes during his parade of special sessions, they saved taxpayers hundreds of millions. Edwards finally wore House Republicans down, and they agreed to extend close to half of the temporary sales tax that was supposed to expire, raising $466 million. But then we learned the state ended up with more than a $300 million surplus. That ominous fiscal cliff we heard about at nauseam? Yeah, not so much.
Henry is right to be skeptical about spending money before we know we have it. Especially with Edward's well established track record of exaggerating the need for new taxes.
"I'm trying to avoid a session where the governor comes out with more "Chicken Little" scenarios claiming we spent too much money so now we have to raise taxes again. He's a big proponent of raising taxes," said Henry.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.