It’s too crass for politicians to acknowledge it openly, even in the age of frankness ushered in by Donald Trump, but legislators know it is one of the fundamentals of political physics: If you give somebody a benefit, you’ll never get it back.
This thought was behind the scenes during the debate over expansion of Medicaid insurance for the working poor in the last decade. After all, once you give somebody an insurance card — even one in, as then-Gov. Bobby Jindal often said, an imperfect system — how will you get it back?
Probably never, as when new Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded the program by executive order in 2016. Even his two current Republican challengers in the October primary, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and businessman Eddie Rispone, of Baton Rouge, approach the idea of a scaleback very gingerly.
Whining about the program’s administration is not exactly a political clarion call for its repeal.
What’s true for a program for the needy is also true of a program for the greedy. Jindal’s tax cuts for mainly better-off taxpayers destabilized the general fund for a decade, but they've never really been fixed.
Lately, Edwards cut back — also by executive order, a handy power for a Democrat in a Republican state — one of the lavish tax breaks that primarily benefits the petrochemical industry.
Under the new dispensation, 20% of the break was repealed, meaning that local governments got that money up front in new property taxes for roads, schools, police and so forth. Before, it was a program of intergovernmental theft, as the state has for decades granted breaks from local taxes for oil and gas industries without the say-so of community officials.
Despite the best efforts of the powerful oil and gas lobby and its faithful spear-carriers in the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to get that 20% back.
In the House on Monday, a resolution by state Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, failed to win passage, being just short of the 53 votes required by law. He might bring it up again, although time is getting short in the session that ends June 6.
Edmonds’ resolution, HCR3, centralizes local approval of the industry property tax breaks in a single three-member committee composed of the parish president, sheriff and school board president. Maybe that sounds innocuous, but it’s fewer folks for business to lean on to approve the 80% break.
And, of course, that doesn't take the 20% back from locals.
Edmonds’ measure originated in a dispute in East Baton Rouge Parish, where some relatively small breaks were turned down by local officials. A few others, in St. Bernard Parish among others, have also been rejected. But nine times out of 10, local elected officials don’t want to be seen as “anti-jobs” — even if the correlation between these giveaways and economic development is difficult to prove.
Other related measures, including a constitutional amendment on the issue, are still alive in the Legislature. Taking money away from school boards, sheriffs and cities remains difficult, once Edwards gave them the power to judge the industrial tax breaks for themselves.
That it’s even a dispute in the Legislature, against the law of political physics, tells us a lot about those representing The People — the oil people, the gas people, and so on. And let’s not forget, the beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion, including rural hospitals and health care providers.
Taking away what Edwards has given will be difficult, whoever is in the governor’s chair next year.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.