The latest fiscal analysis shows the state could be facing an upcoming budget deficit of $1 billion. In recent weeks, this “fiscal cliff” has been the focus of much debate between Republican legislators and Governor Edwards.
In fact, Louisiana state government is seemingly always in the midst of a financial catastrophe. During the first two years of the Edwards administration, the state has leaped from one fiscal crisis to another. To increase revenue, the Governor supported an increase in the state sales tax to the highest level in the country.
To avoid the “fiscal cliff” the sales taxes will have to be renewed, other taxes will have to be increased, or state government spending will actually have to be reduced.
The Governor is an opponent of any serious cuts to state government. He believes it will negatively impact state services, while legislative Republicans advocate greater cuts, and note that Louisiana state government is too big.
Former state legislator and U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA) agrees with GOP legislators that the state government needs to be cut. Johnson noted that Louisiana has “the highest per capita government spending in the South. We spend nearly 30 percent more than the Southern average, and yet we have little to show for it.” Furthermore, Johnson said that “everyone should recognize we have a major problem” in our state when “22% of the managers in Louisiana’s classified civil service manage only one other employee, 19,000 consulting contracts bleed the public fiscally and $830 million per year is wasted in fraudulent Medicaid payments alone.”
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With this type of spending excesses, state officials should look to cut everything possible from the bureaucracy before asking taxpayers for additional funds. In fact, it is the wrong time to increase taxes since Louisiana has been suffering economically. We have a higher unemployment rate (4.7%) than the national average (4.1%) and Louisiana is one of only eight states in the country to lose population in the last year. Most of our Southern neighbors (Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida) are doing much better than Louisiana economically.
As Louisiana debates taxes in the upcoming weeks, voters will be exposed to the difference in philosophy between conservative Republicans and Governor Edwards. Hopefully, voters will start to realize that Governor Edwards does not represent their values. For example, he voted for President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the last two presidential elections, yet these two candidates lost the popular vote overwhelmingly in Louisiana.
While Louisiana voters admire the Governor’s military service and might appreciate his conservative positions on some social issues, they do not agree with his “tax and spend” fiscal policies. While Governor Edwards received a high approval rating in the recent poll, voters realize that the state is in trouble. In the Southern Media and Opinion Research poll, only 36% of respondents believed the state was moving in the “right” direction, while 45% said that Louisiana was headed in the “wrong” direction.
In the remainder of his term, the Governor will have to change the perception of Louisiana voters about the direction of the state. If not, his high approval ratings will vanish, and he will have a very hard time winning re-election.
Jeff Crouere is a native New Orleanian and his award winning program, “Ringside Politics,” airs locally at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and at 10:00 p.m. Sundays on PBS affiliate WLAE-TV, Channel 32, and from 7-11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990-AM & www.Wgso.com. He is a political columnist, the author of America's Last Chance and provides regular commentaries on the Jeff Crouere YouTube channel and on www.JeffCrouere.com. For more information, email him at [email protected]