This was the main point of my discussion today with Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) pollster, Bernie Pinsonat.
This week, SMOR issued a poll that was commissioned by conservative Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby. On the poll ballot were issues such as: How popular is Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards? Do the voters have an appetite for more taxes? Who is favored in the upcoming US Senate and Presidential races?
What we know from the poll for certain is that Louisiana voters are taxed-out. Kaput. Republican legislators, who control the House and the Senate, better think twice and democrat legislators need to watch their backs, also. Taxes are not popular and not wanted. The business community was socked last year and they along with the Average Joe family , earlier this spring, was walloped. Thanks to the oil price drop and a present that former Governor Bobby Jindal left us, a roughly three billion dollar hole with no more pots of money to cash in, the legislature was left was no choice. They and the governor filled those pots with outside revenues—taxes. Now the natives are restless, totally unhappy and ready for that warpath.
Worse (or perhaps better) as fate might have it, according to Republican Senate President John Alario, the deficit is no longer $600 million, but $450 due to increased revenues this spring. Thus, the argument is—why raise taxes during the special session this summer, which Democrat Governor John Bel Edwards is insisting upon doing? If revenues do continue to increase, then will we need the additional revenues, meaning taxes? Yet, if the state wants to maintain its public hospitals, its budget certainties for its universities for the upcoming semester, then don’t our government leaders need to belly up to the bar and pay the piper, with revenue enhancers—yes, taxes?
After all, Universities must know how much money they can spend in order to hire, set courses and tell students exactly what the tuition might be for the fall and spring sessions.
Private hospitals who are partnering with the state to provide healthcare to the poor need contract certainties, or else they might walk from their private-public partnership agreements, leaving the poor without their doctors and causing the private hospitals to be overrun by those tens of thousands left out in the healthcare cold.
Yet, as Pinsonat states, parents want their TOPS, a state program, which pays university students money for tuition. Those students have met a certain academic standard and this is the state’s most popular program of programs, it seems (assuming you don’t include LSU football into the mix). Parents insist the tuition bill needs to be filled with those TOPS dollars, or else, the hit will smear the fan.
So, what are the legislators and the governor going to do? Do they enter the 2016-17 fiscal year starting July 1 with hospitals, university and students and others, needing to know how much money is available, which programs will be funded and which are left to the side of the road--with the hope that oil prices continue to climb?
Although the governor is insisting that we raise taxes, what happens if the legislature balks and the fiscal year starts with a huge budget hole, anywhere from $1 to roughly $600 million? What recourse does the governor have, then? Who would get the praise, and who would get the blame?
And, what does all of this mean to the upcoming US Senate race, if anything? Treasurer, John Kennedy has been leading the charge to hold the budget line. He insists we have a spending problem rather than a revenue problem. He also leads all candidates by over 20 points—largely because of this simple message? What happens if the revenues are not raised by July 1 and universities, hospitals and students are left out of their zone of certainties and chaos results at campuses, hospital floors and back at Average Joe’s home? Would Kennedy be faulted or will he continue to soar over all of his opponents?
So much on the table, so many questions, so much doubt and so little time.
So, in this political game of Louisiana legislative chicken, who’s going to blink first?
Watch the video as we discuss these and other issues and perhaps you will find out.