Before “House of Cards” was a television hit, it was a description of Louisiana’s budget practices.
Now, we see what happens when the cards come tumbling down.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne correctly calls the state’s financial problems worse than the outgoing administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal has let on.
The liberal Louisiana Budget Project said tax increases to fill some of the holes identified by Dardenne are “all but inevitable.” Wrong. Tax increases in one form or another are inevitable, having been mostly put off during the Jindal years.
Dardenne said state government is about $1.9 billion short of revenue to make the new budget balance, including a gap of up to $750 million that must be bridged by the end of June. June 30 is the last day of the fiscal year 2016 budget.
While much of the attention heretofore has been focused on the fiscal 2017 budget, the first for which Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards is responsible, the potential deficit in the current fiscal year is a serious matter.
Further budget cuts, on top of those already dealt out to agencies during the Jindal years, cannot be considered a realistic answer to those kind of numbers.
The governor-elect and Dardenne, who will head the budget-writing Division of Administration, are not indulging in the “woe is us” rhetoric that might be expected in a new regime. The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana has been warning about the fundamental imbalance between revenue and spending for years, among other experts from the Budget Project on the left to GOP centrists in the Legislature.
“It’s a very difficult situation that the new administration is facing,” Robert Travis Scott, of PAR, said. “It’s very difficult to make changes in revenue and cuts in the middle of fiscal year. You only have a smaller part of the year to work with.”
More fundamentally, the system is set up to spend money it cannot reliably count on, because of long-standing problems with not only budget mandates in the law and constitution but because our tax structure is woefully out of date in a modern economy.
We have yet to see the Edwards agenda for change, but it will, given the magnitude of the problems sketched out by Dardenne, inevitably include some revenue raising. And when that happens, we hope that Jindal backers in the Legislature will face the numbers they assisted in creating without flinching, because any budget solution must be bipartisan.
Woe is us, indeed.