Both Edwards the organ grinder and his monkey sidekick Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne laid on the balloon juice thick and fast in the past couple of days: Edwards through a series of poison pen letters-to-the-editor and Dardenne in comments when sought out by the media in response to cogent remarks about the recently-concluded legislative sessions made by Treasurer John Kennedy, also a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Kennedy noted in an address that state spending in the budget had escalated by about a third in just six years, fueled by $2.4 billion in higher taxes – all approved by Edwards as a legislator and governor.
Dardenne in response said while the budget Edwards recommended that largely made its way into to law was the largest since those of the previous decade that were inflated by disaster recovery spending, the current effort he alleged represented a more honest look at revenues and expenditures. Yet examining that claim more closely shows a good bit of dishonesty unto itself.
For one thing, Dardenne alleged that the Edwards budget contrasted with those of his predecessor Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal in that it had no “one-time” money factored in. The term covers a variety of items, but in its broadest sense means additional dollars for a purpose that lacks expected revenue for continuation of current spending levels for next fiscal year from its dedicated source, or something intended for funding through the general fund that relied upon another funding source, or a one-off revenue source unlikely replicated.
As it turns out, at least $34.5 million in the budget meets that definition. It comes from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly and Health Trust Fund, which legally may go to funding health care. In a related matter, to balance the prior fiscal year budget now just ending, the Edwards Administration successfully inserted $200 million in one-time money designed otherwise in part to go to the Budget Stabilization Fund during the year’s first extraordinary session. Then, during the regular session, Act 601 punted the matter to future years, contradicting Dardenne’s assertion that their budget did not use gimmickry like pushing expenses into the future.
Dardenne also claimed the budget’s avoidance of “funds sweeps,” or moving idle money from one fund with a dedicated purpose to provide money for another use, made it more “honest.” But there’s nothing inherent dishonest about these sweeps. They are necessary correctives to a fiscal structure that that cordons off seven-eighths of all state-generated revenues, often funneling these into purposes of very low priority. For example, why should tens of millions of dollars sit idly every year in the constitutionally-protected Artificial Reef Development Fund when only a fraction of that gets used for its intended all-important purpose of building such reefs in and around unused oil rigs when privately-run prisons and partner charity hospitals get cuts that may entice them to withdraw their services?
Perhaps as a tactic by the Edwards Administration to create a crisis and exacerbate it. By refusing to draw down excess funds and leaving certain programs less funded such as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, it can allege the state needs more taxes to keep oversized state government. For this reason, the Administration needs close scrutiny when fiscal reform emerges as an issue over the next 12 months; watch for it to resist shedding more than a handful of the roughly 400 dedications so it can continue to agitate for big government and higher taxes for the devouring.
There’s nothing “deceptive,” as Dardenne put it, about fund sweeps as a means to create better prioritization in spending. In fact, it reeks of dishonesty on his and his boss’ part to suggest as such and that they refuse to touch in any way the annual $180 million spent to make movies, or $47 million to pay people to work less through the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the $136 million to pay for health care for people who have the means to afford health care insurance. Presenting false dichotomies posing as the only legitimate public policy solutions disserves the public.
Of course, Edwards has his underling’s back on this propaganda crusade, as evidenced by his dissembling in the series of letters. In these, he echoed much of what Dardenne erroneously alleged, but amplified some aspects.
He intentionally exaggerated the budget situation to exculpate the tax increases he sought and got (not mentioned in the letters) and spending cuts he recommended by writing “Never before had the state faced a financial crisis of this magnitude,” when in fact in 1988 the state faced far bigger fiscal problems. He alleged that “budget problems were not simply a matter of wasteful government spending” when in fact the inefficient programs as listed above exist, as well as a bloated higher education system, overly generous compensation to state employees (most notably regarding pensions) and state government propping up unnecessary expenditures directed to nursing homes, among others. He lapsed into his Manichean rhetoric born of his unwillingness to cut unneeded spending by asserting those who disagreed with his plans to retain expanded government with tax hikes blocked “progress,” while those agreeing acted in a “bipartisan fashion.” And he completely avoided responsibility for passage of the budget and the cuts he recommended without any credible attempt to insert proper priorities, laying blame on legislators who called his bluff by their refusal to raise taxes beyond the $1.5 billion enacted already this year by stating they “will have to answer to their constituents when deep cuts go into effect.”
These statements deflect the truth of the matter: Edwards broke this budget and now he owns it. Over the coming weeks he will attempt to distract the public from his failure and that he offers nothing more than a warped vision of more taxing and spending to empower government and special interests that comprise his electoral base at the expense of the people. Wise and informed observers won’t fall for this litany of lies as already previewed, no matter how often he and his minions repeat those.