Not only does Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards serve as Louisiana’s chief executive, he also has become its sore-loser-in-chief.
When lawmakers left the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students partially funded, Edwards failed in attempting to bluff the Legislature — mainly the House Republican majority — into increasing taxes to expand government to his desired level by imposing dramatic cuts to TOPS. This makes Edwards the main villain to families that now must cover some tuition.
Worse for Edwards, the House used the issue to illustrate Edwards’ cynical strategy to maximize the public’s pain by threatening large reductions to a few major programs instead of making small, manageable cuts to many less important ones. Legislators inserted a clause diverting almost enough funds to fully meet the demand for TOPS for the remainder of this year, meaning that less than half of the award amount would be funded in the first half of 2017, rather than distributing it equally between semesters.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday he would not veto a recent measure to “front load” the TOP…
GOP leaders correctly pointed out that this would offer students a better chance to cover unexpected costs and buy more time for families to find funding for later on. State revenues could come in higher than forecast by year’s end, leaving little in the way of total out-of-pocket tuition payments.
Yet Edwards threatened to veto this idea, calling it “disingenuous,” even though the state will notify families about the consequences. Edwards didn’t follow through on his veto threat, although he did strike the idea of automatically sending any new funds that might emerge in the budget directly to TOPS. This way, if that money materializes, he can gain credit for appearing to personally restore its funding.
Edwards’ willingness to punish Louisianans by sacrificing good policy to further his tax-and-spend agenda extends beyond big-ticket items. When trying to convince lawmakers and the public that without increased taxes the state faces a crisis, no matter is too picayunish, as his actions regarding fisheries management demonstrate.
Legislation by U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves, R-Baton Rouge, garnering bipartisan support would transfer management of red snapper from the federal government to Louisiana and four other states. Until this year, all five states had expressed support of the bill, which seeks to correct bias toward commercial interests that results in a prematurely short recreational fishing season. This spring, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, which establishes policy, unanimously resolved to support it.
However, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon, an Edwards appointee who implements policy and manages personnel, opposed the resolution. Subsequently, even though Edwards had indicated publicly that he would reappoint Commissioner Julie Hebert prior to her authorship of the resolution, he didn’t. Melancon complained that assuming administrative responsibilities without federal aid would cost too much, despite the department recently having raised a fee to pay for saltwater fish management. Melancon claimed his predecessor, who supported the bill, had hired too many people, eating into those proceeds.
This excuse seems fishy. Melancon has wide discretion in managing a Cabinet department that has more self-generated revenues (two-thirds) than does any other secretary’s. He could rearrange dollars without service reductions if he wanted to. Instead, he’s arguing that the state can’t afford to pursue desirable policy unless taxes go up.
These incidents big and small show Edwards’ eagerness to try to hurt the public as a form of payback for not getting his way on growing government. Any suffering that results could pressure lawmakers to go along with Edwards in the future. Petty reactions like his have no place in governing the state.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at LSU in Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is the author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.