"A change of scenery," Gov. John Bel Edwards called it, to contemplate the "end of the road" for the Legislature that has refused to deal with the "fiscal cliff."
A fine mix of metaphors the Legislature has got us into.
All too familiar with speaking without result to legislators at the opening of legislative sessions, the governor moved his opening day event to the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
There, he was bucked up with the presence of Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican, as well as a venue that focused on the impact of budget and tax decisions in the real world. Does the real world care?
As legislators might have delivered the substance of Edwards' financial remarks by heart, he's repeated them so often, the real world might listen:
The budgets passed by the House and Senate this month were widely divergent but shared the feature of not having enough money in them to pay the bills. Neither is acceptable to Edwards or to the majority of legislators. Even if the Legislature comes up with the $648 million Edwards needs to plug the gap, his administration will still cut a non-negligible $120 million from the state general fund.
Another Republican, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, said he believes the $120 million in cuts can be spread over agencies to avoid drastic impacts on services. But more than that?
Politically, cuts and no taxes are the battle cries of the faction of House Republicans who have blocked every major tax reform bill so far, during two years of approaching the "fiscal cliff," when almost $1.4 billion in state general fund revenues expire by law.
If the House GOP leadership balks again, making a political statement by giving the Democratic governor only a portion of the $648 million, a showdown in about two weeks looms. Will it be a take-it-or-leave it $500 million, say? That more than doubles the eventual cuts made by the governor and veteran budget officer Dardenne, who knows more about the budget that most of the legislators combined.
Then, the state will inevitably start to pare back expenditures on colleges like ULL but also on Medicaid or other programs the get federal matching funds. Louisiana will thus, to make a short-term political point in the House, start losing hundreds of millions from its economy, tax dollars now coming home from Washington, but dependent on a state budget that is not in chaos. We'll be leaving money on the table.
On Facebook, one of the Republicans in the House called out his own side.
"What we need is to not raise taxes but to retain some of the revenue that the people's Treasury is about to lose on June 30," said state Rep. Rob Shadoin, of Ruston. "We're set to lose $1.4 billion; we need to retain $648 million. Don't get sucked into the old trite rhetoric that we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. But if you swallow that, then credit and responsibility rests smack-dab on the back of the majority party in the Legislature for the last 10 years.
"Er, that would be the Republicans."
Even with $648 million, the state would be reducing its current tax take by $400 million, Edwards says. Speaking over coffee the other day to editors and reporters of The Advocate, the governor said wryly that if a Republican governor had offered that kind of deal, the legislators would celebrate.
We'll see. So far, this has been a long road all right, a financial bridge to nowhere. There might yet be significant casualties among valuable state institutions like UL-Lafayette and its peers, as well as in programs that serve the poor and the unfortunate.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.