John Bel Edwards is from a political family but he probably didn’t understand what pressure really meant until he joined the Legislature 14 years ago. One decision he made that long ago he probably wants to take back, support of new Gov. Bobby Jindal’s big income tax cut — unbalancing the state general fund for years and leaving new Gov. Edwards a financial mess when he took office in 2016.
We hope that the governor won’t look back the same way on his decision to sign a highway bill taking money from the state general fund — and, like Jindal’s tax cut, potentially creating future financial crises.
Why? Because bridges and road repairs have been paid from user fees, typically fuel taxes, in a constitutionally protected fund. The general fund — paying for education and health care, among other vital needs — was traditionally tapped for roads and bridges in very limited sums.
The Legislature’s decision to dedicate large sums over time, ultimately $300 million a year, from the general fund to transportation is a big departure. In the future, politically popular bring-home-the-bacon projects may be seen as more important to legislators than abstract but vital needs like schools and colleges, or health insurance for the poor.
Further, the signing of House Bill 514 makes political decisions on what projects will be funded with the money, a departure from the tradition of nonpolitical needs-based highway priorities.
We hope this initiative from legislators and Edwards is wise in the long term but we have our doubts.