In late December, and only a month after the gubernatorial election, the Edwards administration floated some trial balloons--that taxes might need to be raised. Those balloons came back to the ground with a profound thud. Edwards claimed then, as he does now, that the deficit worsened by a factor of 2 since the November elections. He stated in early January, that the state was then $750 million short for this year and $1.9 billion shy for next fiscal year, beginning July 1.
Before the ink went dry on that budget deficiency, only a month later, in early Feburary, the state’s economists reported a further worsening--$950 million for this year (payable within four months) and $1.9 to $2.2 billion for next year, just to keep current levels of services.
Whether out of anger or political revenge, there are some members of the electorate, mainly those who voted against Edwards, who are now insisting that Edwards either lied or broke a promise not to raise taxes when he campaigned. Edwards, and others, have defended the back-step. They insist the budget is so much worse than initially anticipated and that nobody knew just how pitiful the revenue shortage would be.
Now that the Louisiana legislature is in an extraordinary special session to help close the enormous fiscal gap, the so-called credibility gap could widen and fall on more toes than those belonging to Edwards. During the recent fall elections, quite a number of legislators said that they were against raising taxes. Many of them have sworn an oath to Grover Norquist, the anti-tax czar, who demands absolute loyalty to his no-tax edicts.
Last year, many legislators ignored Norquist and the no-tax pledge. They Governor Bobby Jindal had helped put them into a box by acting recklessly with past budgets. So, they went along with a Jindal scheme, to raise roughly $700 million on businesses, and said they were forgiven because a legislative fraudulent device they created, called the SAVE ACT, allowed them to claim that they raised money but it was revenue-neutral. The major business organization, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, didn’t buy the sham and said those votes were tax raisers.
Now that the voters have gotten wind that all hell could break lose on education and healthcare, impacting their kids, a popular program called TOPS and could pull the plug on state assistance to moms and dads in nursing homes, some republican and conservative legislators are going through different contortions.
Instead of absolutes—no taxes, ever—they cry is, cut first and only consider raising taxes if there is absolutely no alternative Under these circumstances, they might be willing to raise another thirty-cents on smokes, a few pennies on whiskey and booze. In fact, they might be forced, to say uncle, claim the devil made them raise sales taxes or even a few income taxes here and there.
Even some of the most conservative lawmakers are feeling the heat. As much as they don’t want to do so, and as much as they said, they would never do so, they, like Edwards, during the campaign, simply underestimated the gravity of the budget horror.
One legislator, obviously not very fond of taking more tax dollars from the pockets of the people, Republican Jay Morris, has insisted upon cutting government services to the bone. Last week, he said, the state could save higher ed by cutting deductions and exemptions and not raise taxes. However, if cutting these deductions and exemptions were such a piece of cake, Morris and company would have done so, long before this spring.
Today, he uttered the word revenues but again noted the importance of cutting first, as much as possible, to save healthcare and education.
And then, not all lawmakers believe that taxes might be necessary. The Louisiana Treasurer, John Kennedy, running for US Senate, has been insisting that taxes aren’t needed one bit. Of course, he can say that. He doesn’t have to vote one way or the other on the issue and can keep the tea party types in his stead by claiming to be the toughest anti-tax dude in town. Despite his immunity, his credibility, however, could still be challenged. He has said the budget problem is roughly one-half as bad as the economists are claiming. This better-case-scenario surely makes it easy for him to demand cuts since less government would obviously be on the butcher block.
Still, it will be an interesting few weeks until all of this comes to an end. We will then see if the same voters who have insisted that Edwards lied about taxes and cannot be trusted, and broke his honor code, to tell us the truth, will be equally as hostile to their own republican lawmakers who go astray. Or, will they give them a goodwill pass for trying to make all possible cuts before breaking their commitments to the Norquist commander and to their voters.
The lesson learned? When running for office, never say never. You never know when the tax man cometh, when needeth.