Thursday, 23 June 2016 11:15
John Bel Edwards TOPS, budget ploys shows politician with personal agenda
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Even as he goes down to defeat, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards could not help but extend his hand up and parallel to him, with palm facing him, lowering his pinky, and telling a number of Louisiana families to read between the lines.

He reacted as such when learning that the Louisiana House of Representatives’ budget plan included a provision that if the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars did not receive full funding that recipients would frontload tuition payments. The Republican leaders who backed the notion felt that a change in fiscal fortunes would produce more money than anticipated later in the fiscal year and if not then families would have more time to secure alternative funding. At present, TOPS appears to have only 70 percent funding.

However, neither of these rationales made a favorable impression on Edwards, who wanted to lard up at least another couple of hundred million dollars’ worth of tax increases on top of the $2.3 billion legislated over the past 13 months to close the gap. Keep in mind Edwards himself in his executive budget proposed cuts to TOPS, as a strategy to coerce the GOP majorities in the Legislature to hike taxes.

While he squeezed about half of the combined total over the past year and a month out of legislators in two special sessions, he didn’t get it all. Further, most of that haul will last only two more years, forcing him to return to lawmakers fewer than 18 months before a reelection attempt if he won’t compensate by right-sizing state government. So while he did not suffer a crushing loss, his agenda of tax-and-spend to keep oversized government, if not expand it, clearly did not come to fruition.

Some magnanimous politicians would accept defeat, work to make the best with what they have, and move on. Not Edwards: with his whole strategy built upon extracting what he wants by trying to inflict pain upon constituencies behind programs supported by his opponents to discourage them from thwarting his big government goal, he doubled down in this instance by expressing opposition to the idea. His mouthpiece on these matters in the Senate, Democrat state Sen. Eric LaFleur, chairman of its Finance Committee, demonstrated a singular inability to grasp the obvious when stated he didn’t understand the rationale for the budget instruction he said he will seek to remove in his chamber.

Officially, Edwards and his Senate allies don’t think forecasts came in too low and that the opposite could happen so the frontloading could deprive any TOPS funding for next year. But there’s no logic to that thinking: by fully funding now, families have seven months to prepare for next year including a scenario of no funding. By contrast, they have little time to make up even partial shortfalls for classes that begin in two months, potentially causing students to drop out and lose TOPS entirely. And if more money does flow in to state coffers that would have allowed full funding all academic year, the state misses a chance to have students’ tuitions paid in full.

So let’s recognize this reaction for what it is: a mean-spirited last-ditch attempt to pressure the GOP majority to assent to carving more taxes out of the public’s hide. And even if it fails, as is likely, because Edwards’ punishment strategy to work must employ credible threats, it’s likely the final supplemental appropriations bill will have the Senate successfully negotiate out the frontloading instruction to allow Edwards from now on to allege Republicans deserve blame for TOPS cuts, when in fact not only did he champion that from the start but also at the last minute ended up preventing implementation of a maneuver to ease potentially the impact.

A statesman would put aside his personal agenda for the people’s benefit. But let’s not forget that Edwards is no statesman, but a political hack driven by a liberal ideology by definition antithetical to the good of the people. And uncaring enough that if he’s going down on a policy battle, he’ll take them with him.

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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