You can’t take politics out of politics, as the old saying goes, but when politicians decide that everything in government is political, facts be damned, then Louisiana is farther down a bad road.
The latest victim of partisanship at the State Capitol is a two-decade-old reform that helped minimize politics in the budget process.
The perpetrator is House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, who is abusing his position on a four-man committee where decisions must be unanimous.
Economists agreed that the state’s revenues are coming in better than expected, allowing room to pay for some prison costs and other matters that the Legislature in the spring anticipated could be funded if extra money came in. Barras did not object then.
The money’s coming in, but now Barras is the single “no” vote overriding the economists, the state Division of Administration, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.
Barras’ vote blocks the improved forecast, meaning the money can’t be spent. He has vague questions about the impact of the federal tax changes, declines in oil prices and the state economy.
"I just feel that there is a good bit of uncertainty," the New Iberia banker said.
There’s some uncertainty in every new day. That doesn’t mean that every decision must be put on hold, against expert advice. There is reason to doubt Barras’ sincerity, and that reason is politics.
If the forecasting committee cannot agree, it not only affects the current year’s spending. It also restricts the amount available to Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, when he by law offers the first draft of the fiscal 2020 budget next month.
Edwards intends to propose a state-funded teacher pay raise. With Barras’ veto, against the evidence, in an obscure panel like the Revenue Estimating Conference, Republicans get to say, later in the spring, that they proposed the teacher pay raise.
If this sounds petty, it is. Nor is it good politics. After all, we doubt teachers will care one way or another when in the long budget process raises are put on paper, or by whom. Barras is basically exposing the GOP game by his almost unprecedented action.
Edwards’ appointee on the REC, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a Republican, said the reason for the Barras blockade is obvious. "We're just playing a game right now," Dardenne said. "It defies logic. It doesn't defy politics; I understand that."
We worry, as Dardenne said, that the Barras veto is another step toward every technical decision being driven not by the numbers but by the distortion of politics.
The instincts of a small-town banker about the economy are not necessarily wrong, but when Barras acts so drastically against professional advice, and even crashes the decisions made earlier made by the full Legislature of which he is a part, we believe there is more to it than he lets on.