When Louisiana prepares its budgets for the coming fiscal year, starting every July 1, there is always an element of uncertainty because the 12 months ahead might bring surprises.
During most of the past decade, particularly during Gov. Bobby Jindal's two terms, there was less uncertainty: There was going to be a midyear shortfall in the budget. There almost always was, since Jindal's disastrous fiscal decisions essentially guaranteed that agencies would be told, quite often very late in the fiscal year, to cut some more from their budgets.
That kind of certainty we don't need.
Amid much partisan rhetoric, the Legislature and the new administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards struggled to raise enough new money to avoid shortfalls and pay the bills. We don't agree with every decision since 2016, but the budget is now based on reliably recurring revenues instead of one-time money and fiscal gimmicks.
The process has hardly been perfect, but in Edwards' first fiscal year, there was a small surplus, and a larger one is expected as the books are finally closed on the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Unfortunately, good news is always criticized by Edwards' political opponents. The line of argument now is that the surplus, perhaps $300 million but no one knows yet for sure, is too much and shows that the tax increases were excessive — even though, as Edwards points out, the state sales tax is now lower that it was last year.
For state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, the "conservative House Republicans were right to question the governor's claim of a need to raise taxes to cover a purported $400-500m deficit." This Twitter analysis gets just about everything wrong in 280 characters.
The conservative House Republicans she praises were relentless obstructionists, trashing the nonpartisan tax reform proposals pushed by experts selected by the Legislature itself.
All taxes were anathema, even among those who helped Jindal dig the financial hole that Edwards inherited. They said Edwards was always exaggerating the budget crisis, even though he was still cutting various programs. The state general fund is lower than it would have been if the Jindal tax cuts, particularly in income taxes, had not been made; growth has only made up part of the losses. Our tax system is still one of the worst in the country.
In real life, the predicted surplus — a fraction of the $9 billion general fund — was probably influenced less by specific tax decisions in the last fiscal year than by the gradual economic recovery, particularly in Landry's own Acadiana, hard-hit by the 2014 collapse of the price of oil.
A surplus of this size means there won't be a midyear Jindalnomics crisis in agencies and colleges and other state institutions, of the sort Landry and others supported in the blown-up budgets of the past decade.
And under the Louisiana Constitution, surplus money can only be used for specific one-time purposes, such as paying down retirement debts, replenishing the "rainy day" fund, or repairing
We don't know how big the surplus is going to be, but we're glad to have it, given the ugly alternatives of the past decade.