Thursday, 10 March 2016 12:53
Sadow: Complainer-in-chief John Bel Edwards fails in effort to take more of our money
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edwards vicMore good news than bad came out of the 2016 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature. It didn’t advance much the cause of right-sizing state government but neither did it set up the possibility for defeat, either – an evaluation validated in reverse barometer fashion by the state’s foremost advocate of big government.

The end product raised some business taxes, some permanently so, most of which will get passed along to consumers, as well as hiked the state sales taxes a penny and escalated in minor fashion other excise taxes. It featured some modest cuts to government spending, although admittedly perhaps reducing as much as possible given the short remainder of the fiscal year. More notable for what it did not do, it rejected overtures to double the Earned Income Tax Credit and to create more progressive individual taxation, even as it left the door open for that by putting forth a constitutional amendment that could wipe out deductibility of individual income tax credits for federal taxes paid.

Naturally, that result did not sit well with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, who wailed about an estimated $800 million shortfall from his preferred spending level for next fiscal year, called those legislators who did not agree with his resistance to right-sizing government derelict and not working together for the good of the state, and lied about the nature of the recurring revenue generated being ineligible for use for that purpose and also about that future cuts would have to go mostly to higher education and health care. He errantly and audaciously alleged he had intended for the session to undertake structural reform, when he really meant that agenda only entailed increasing taxes to redistribute more wealth.

Little of what he said bore any resemblance to reality. Taxes lasting from Apr. 1, 2016 through Jun. 30, 2018 qualify as recurring revenue; by insinuating otherwise Edwards merely wanted to throw a tantrum over the Republican-controlled House scuttling his five-year demand that would have made it easier to institutionalize outsized government. The Legislature can appropriate funds however it likes, including casting off any number of statutory dedications in order not to have the brunt of reductions fall onto health care and higher education. And he hamstrung the session’s reputed reform goal from the start by not permitting legislation on items such as revenue sharing and pension reform.

Even that $800 million gap does not seem that daunting to close. Some legislators felt that, after some jiggling around with Medicaid funding that $300 million could come off that. Reduce Taylor Opportunity Program for Students funding 80 percent to make it a true scholarship program and eliminate Medicaid expansion and that’s almost that much again. Legislating away the concept of a “charity hospital” could make up the rest.

In other words, the my-way-or-the-highway complainer-in-chief exemplified the meaning of a sore loser, echoed by some of his fellow partisans, and seems ready again to take hostage high profile state programs to terrorize the public into discounting the possibility of creating more efficient government that prioritizes its outlays rationally. Perhaps cementing his cluelessness, he called this day where legislative unwillingness to take more of what people earn for longer than necessary “not our best,” when in fact its outcome provided cautious optimism that, at long last, Louisiana will take a step forward towards fiscal reform and budgetary discipline.

Transcript, video: Gov. Edwards’ post-legislative special session press conference

Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

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