Did he cut or didn't he? Gov. John Bel Edwards has been bragging about cutting hundreds of millions from the state budget since taking office. But Edward's own commissioner of administration, Jay Dardenne, contradicted the governor in recent testimony in front of a legislative committee. So who's telling the truth?
Republicans are demanding cuts before agreeing to new taxes proposed by Edwards. But the governor says he's already slashed $600 million in his first two years in office. He makes the claim despite state spending increasing by more than $1 billion since he's been in office. When you factor in federal dollars, Louisiana now spends $5 billion more than Gov. Bobby Jindal did with his final budget.
As recently as last week, Edwards repeated his claim of cutting $600 million from the state's general fund during a joint budget hearing before legislators. But back in August, before the very same joint budget committee, Dardenne painted a very different picture than his boss.
Dardenne said the governor solved the state's budget shortfalls his first two years in office mostly by what he called "means of financial swaps." Means of financial swaps is when you backload into the general fund money from other funds.
"When we are addressing the public and we say that we reduced or we cut the budget by $600 million it's probably not accurate when the majority of that is means of financial swap. Would you agree with that?," Republican state Rep. Lance Harris asked Dardenne.
"Yeah, I don't. I wouldn't. Yeah, I would not have, I don't think I've used the phrase 'cut the budget,'" Dardenne responded.
"I'm not saying you have but, I've, some other people use it that say we cut the budget $600 million, but actually the budget was only cut $36 million the prior year and $59 million last year in actual cuts," said Harris.
Harris then moved on to other questions after Dardenne didn't dispute his claims. Harris told me he thought Dardenne's answer to his question clearly contradicted what the governor told a budget committee last week.
I read verbatim to Dardenne his exchange with Harris agreeing the claim of cutting $600 million wasn't accurate. Dardenne told me he didn't remember the exchange.
"I have said, I've said a number of times, I don't know if I said it before the August meeting, that we have cut the budget $600 million dollars, and I stand by that. At some point in time, some of those fundings were restored when money then came in," said Dardenne.
Dardenne seems to be arguing the cuts the governor made are still cuts, even though the funding for most of those cuts has been restored. Only in the world of government are cuts still cuts when their funding is restored.
"When it comes to me being asked to extract more money out of the taxpayers pocket, I want to make sure we are having to do that because there are substantial spending cuts taking place," said Harris
Last week, Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt confronted the governor during a legislative budget hearing on his claim of cutting $600 million despite the ever-ballooning budget under his watch. She told him she has a different definition of the word "cut." Edwards was not amused.
"I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you, and I'm not trying to be ugly about it," Edwards told Hewitt.
Hewitt told the governor he was being insulting. She told me Edwards and Dardenne are doing the very thing they accuse former Gov. Bobby Jindal of, shifting money around to mask the true shape of the budget.
"The public wants to know we are spending less money in government today than we were last year or the year before that. All that money moving around does not mean a hill of beans to the public," said Hewitt.
Republicans have yet to come up with suggestions of where they'd cut. So don't look for any shrinkage when it comes to the budget anytime soon. At this point, we'll just have to settle for higher taxes and the governor bragging about cuts that really aren't cuts.