Make no small plans, a great architect intoned, but in politics the greatness of your plan is secondary to making sure that it's not smaller than the other guy's plans.
Size matters, and that is why Gov. John Bel Edwards continues to have the upper hand in the heated debate over the budget that begins on Monday in the State Capitol.
The governor's plan for repairing the gaping budget holes left by former Gov. Bobby Jindal has policy flaws. His proposed "commercial activity tax," modeled on the gross receipts taxes on business in Texas and a few other states, is an innovation that is widely panned as regressive by both conservatives and progressives, and it is already targeted by business lobbyists.
A late addition to the plan was a revamp of the state income tax, and while repairing the losses of Jindal-era cuts in income tax is favored by experts across the ideological spectrum, the Edwards proposal also has some substantive problems; it would generate little money for the general fund, at least at first, preferring to dangle a deeper rate and thus tax cuts as a political lure.
Other parts of the Edwards plan leave big gaps, too, and it's late in the process for bills to implement the proposals in a coherent way. Details matter in plans great or small, and who really knows today what the financial impact of the Edwards package is, just days before the Legislature convenes?
But it's a plan, and so far it's not a smaller plan than anybody else's, particularly the GOP opposition to the governor in the state House.
There, after a much-vaunted retreat, and in unconscious imitation of the late Richard Nixon, the caucus leadership declared it had a secret plan for dealing with the budget problem. Nixon's secret plan to end the war in Vietnam served its political purpose, as he narrowly won the 1968 election. The rest of the story was not as edifying.
But in competing with Edwards' notions, the House GOP appears to have made a small plan, reliant on opposition to spending and echoing the Jindal mantras that are politically discredited in the public's eye.
Really cutting the budget is not a small plan, but it requires more capacity and credibility than the Jindal hangovers of the House GOP can muster.
When the GOP stacked the House Appropriations Committee with committed budget-cutters, some good might have come of it, as goodness knows there are whole regions of the budget that have been unexplored for savings through efficiency. But after a year of small-bore grousing about tiny amounts of money here or there, even in the larger House the committee is not persuasive to many GOP members as a compelling voice of anti-Edwards agitation.
That leaves the opposition not leaderless exactly, but still far from having a plan.
The governor has his problems in the Legislature, as his office has not proven itself adept in vote-counting and, more importantly, vote-procuring in the House. The addition of Mark Cooper as chief of staff may help, but no one in today's environment should underestimate the difficulty of getting a two-thirds vote, 70 members, out of the House. That's particularly difficult when the governor cannot rely on the speaker or the chairmen of the money committees, Appropriations and Ways and Means.
Even benevolent neutrality is more than he can hope for.
All that said, a governor has control of the budget mechanism, and Edwards remains a popular figure in the state, while his legislative critics are little-known outside the Capitol. If he is focused on his message, a flawed Edwards plan can be the prevailing plan, if not the perfect one.
Bill Minor: A heroic Mississippi journalist of the civil rights era for 30 years for The Times-Picayune, his passing at 94 is part of the passage of that generation's legendary figures.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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