Sharon_Hewitt

Mark Twain famously said, “Never let truth get in the way of a story.” As the Legislature’s most recent special session closed and Gov. John Bel Edwards joined many in the Legislature in celebratory high-fives, what was left unsaid is just how much government spending, and the taxes we pay, have gone up. 

When I took the podium minutes before the vote was cast to raise your taxes $460 million, I laid out the facts on why I would vote no. In his celebratory news conference, the governor attacked my speech as being short on facts. As a former engineer and one of the first female executives in a corporation that was one of the largest in the world, I have never been short on facts nor accused of not doing my homework.

So, here are the facts I delivered that unfortunate day, and a few more that are just as important.

Fact 1: Each Louisiana citizen pays an astounding average of $1,700 every year in sales taxes alone. That puts us among the highest in the country. The tax bill the governor signed, added at least another $100 to that estimate. Simply put, a two-person household pays an average of $3,600 every year in state and local sales taxes. Hardly the chump change the governor makes it out to be when he’s pushing for a penny more here or there. All those pennies add up — and it's real money to working families. 

Fact 2: In Louisiana, we pay more for our government than similar neighboring states, but we are not getting more in return. A recent study showed we pay $200 more per person in this state to deliver similar services and programs as our neighbors, usually with poorer results. 

Fact 3: State general fund spending is now $9.6 billion and has grown by $1 billion under Edwards with no signs of slowing. In health care cost expenditures alone, hundreds of millions have been flagged as wasted, fraudulent, or questionable by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. Imagine if just a fraction of the energy the governor puts into raising our taxes was instead spent on making government more accountable or efficient. 

Fact 4: There are 2,000 unfilled government positions that sit empty, yet we have fully funded them for years on end. The tens of millions spent on these unfilled and unneeded positions are diverted to other line-items, creating slush funds, with no legislative oversight. In the Louisiana Department of Health alone, nearly one out of every 10 jobs are phantom jobs that we pay full salaries for and never fill. We even added 267 more paid positions to the LDH payroll this year. 

Fact 5: Every wasted or misspent dollar under the governor’s Medicaid expansion means one less dollar to help those truly in need. Soon after his election, the governor adopted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. In haste, with the stroke of pen, he committed the taxpayers to paying for a health care program that we simply can’t afford and clearly don’t have the ability to manage. Under his program, able-bodied people are given free health care while working families foot the bill. Meanwhile, the Legislative Auditor, in eight separate audits, has identified hundreds of millions of dollars squandered every year under this ill-conceived political move. But, the administration has been slow and resistant to rectifying these wasteful practices. Every person we allow to cheat the system equates to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that should be going to help those truly in need. 

As an engineering professional, fact-finding and problem-solving are at the core of who I am. I’m also a proud PTA mom and ardent supporter of educational opportunities for everyone. So, when I see the problems of an ineffective and wasteful government threaten vital programs like TOPS and add to the already high tax burden of our families, it infuriates me. 

We deserve more from our elected leaders, especially our governor. Raising taxes is the easy way out. It’s time that we raise our standards and for once stop asking the taxpayers to bail out an inefficient and poorly run state government. 

Governor, these are the facts and the truth. And as you said to me once, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, represents District 1.