A long list of generally sensible suggestions about how to cut the state budget comes from the nonpartisan and nonpolitical Public Affairs Research Council.
But that list of policies is predicated on a political warning to Gov. John Bel Edwards: If you don’t show that you are cutting, you are not likely to get the tax increases you need to balance the budget.
“Tax increases should be a last resort, and then only in amounts sufficient and justified to meet the state’s necessary priorities,” PAR reports in a new plan for the governor and Legislature. “Long-term tax reform and budget stability should be key considerations.”
We would argue that many of the PAR proposals are good ones, but we also recognize the political difficulties of enacting them into law, at least in the time frame that would make a difference in today’s budget crisis.
One of them is instructive: “Support the cost-of-living-adjustment reform in Act 399 of the 2014 session, which allows (cost-of-living adjustments) for retiree benefits but controls state costs.”
This is the law establishing a period of two years between the cost-of-living adjustments, which are eagerly sought by retirees. This austerity measure, a modest one, was overturned by large majorities in the Legislature of 2015, which voted for an immediate cost-of-living adjustment in an election year. Many of the same lawmakers who passed it voted to jettison it at the first chance they could.
The original bill was good policy, but lawmakers thought the opposite was good politics. Only a timely and wise veto by Gov. Bobby Jindal prevented the early torpedoing of this needed reform.
We encourage members of the Legislature to indeed make changes that will last. But even the PAR report notes that some of the long-lasting changes in law and spending practices might require several years to enact.
How much time in legislative terms is there before the great budget crisis of 2016 loses its urgency? We note that the Legislature got wobbly quickly when lobbied by state workers and retirees in 2015.
Over the past few years, we’ve heard a great many half-baked ideas for cutting spending. The PAR report targets a number of good ideas that could make a difference, but given sharp differences over whether to cut, much less what to cut, we forecast a much messier collage of compromises that include both tax increases and some cuts in the budget year that begins July 1.