So many questions. And, with the Louisiana fiscal year fast-coming to an end, a new one beginning July 1, so many of us are searching in that crystal ball, seeking answers as to how this budgetary nightmare of 2018 might come to an end. According to the Times Picayune conservative columnist Tim Morris, the only certainty, for sure, is that the lawmakers have not addressed the overall structure of the budget and spending and until that is done, fixing the state’s fiscal problems will be difficult to do.
This morning, Tim Morris addressed these and other issues during a Bayoubuzz.com Louisiana Legislative Live discussion we held on Facebook and Twitter. Below is the transcript of this part of the interview segment, which ends at the 11 minute, 38 second mark on the video, below. During the initial part of our discussion, Morris discussed his career prior to his becoming a NOLA.COM conservative columnist. I then asked him to give an assessment of the legislature and the budget, which starts below:]
MORRIS: I mean obviously, so it looks like, and I actually just posted a column this morning, that everything is set up in which there's gonna be a very narrow debate in a special session, the budget has essentially been set so now there's a supplemental, and so the question is--how much are they going to fund that? And one things I wrote about is there's actually there's been this discussion that's been set up pro-rata which means that they can only add money proportionally--so they can't decide that they want to save TOPS but meantime not fund, corrections or food stamps or whatever--so that that makes it a lot simpler and the call is basically just dealing with the sales tax, so you can increase the sales tax, you can change the exemptions, but that's pretty much the only method they have to fund the supplemental. So it seems very simple. I still think there's obviously going to be a debate because there are people--I know you've had someone on your program, that would say look--we already spend way too much this is either the largest or the second largest budget we've ever had and we really need to pull back we can't afford these things. I understand that, but I think where the problems is that that we have not addressed the overall structure of our budget and our spending and until we do that, it's going to be a hard thing to fix.
And right now they're talking about six hundred and fifty million, maybe less than that, but the governor says six hundred and fifty million and the only way that you can fill those holes immediately is with something like a sales tax in which the money keeps coming. If you depend on exemptions or some other tax, that won't happen until down the line and we have a July 1st deadline when the new budget begins. So, as simple as it's gonna be I don't know that it's gonna be easy.
SABLUDOWSKY: Basically what you're saying is that like like Jan Moller said yesterday, that it's not like the last session was a failure, because we at least achieved something that, is that we were able to figure out what it is that we're going to appropriate at this point in time
MORRIS: Right, it had the major effect to me, that it they basically fully funded healthcare and that's the biggest pot of money that they have to draw from, so now that can't be touched. That money is there and can't be removed. So there's been some argument saying, if you reduced our healthcare spending by even a half percent, you could fund everything else, but you can't do that now, so the question is what are you going to fund? And I've talked to some lawmakers, again, people feel like that we are overtaxed and they don't want to vote for another tax and they hear that a lot for their constituents, but they also have constituents who have children or grandchildren receiving TOPS-- they also clearly have sheriffs and district attorneys in their parishes in their districts who are going to be hurt, if it's not funded. I don't think that in the end, that Governor Edwards will get everything he wants, but they were pretty darn close at the end of that of that last session and so it seems like that, that something will be figured out and and the threats about people getting tossed out of either nursing homes or jails, I don't I don't think it's going to happen.
SABLUDOWSKY: So there's a possibility, although remote that TOPS will actually, in terms of the percentage, I think is was it seventy percent right now? is it?
MORRIS: Correct 70 percent what they had intended to fund, what they estimated they needed
SABLUDOWSKY: So any additional save revenues that come in that's going to be spread out pro rata
MORRIS: That's, so there's there's gonna be an argument, I think that the Senate, which is the one that crafted this budget, the body that crafted this budget, their intention was for it to be pro rata and the House I think is going to dispute that, and the language of the call could could be interpreted, so I think this may be the major fight--if if the Senate and the Senate's gonna have a say in this, so it's not like the House can just say we're not gonna do it, the House will craft a budget that has to go to the Senate then there has to be agreement. So, I think that that it will end up with with some sort of resolution on that and and once that happens, like I said, the idea being that you can't just go in and save programs you want to save, you can't just give money to the district attorneys or Department of Corrections or to TOPS--it's it's like a glass, you'll fill it up, and either you fill it up or you don't--and so if you try to get TOPS to a hundred percent of what was what was initially thought was needed, then basically everybody else gets funded as well.
SABLUDOWSKY: So how do you feel about, I mean, like when I had a conversation on Friday with Rob, Colonel Rob Maness and basically he was just disbelieving that anybody would be hurt by the cuts--I mean, do you agree with that or do you feel that, other than TOPS being cut by 30%, that we're talking about the DA's, the assistant DA'S not being funded?
MORRIS: Right--it goes down to whether your belief is that, if you really kind of call their bluff, that the people that run the food stamps program, for instance, say well, okay, it turns out that we can move this here and we can turn these these people loose, and and we can still make it work--which is kind of the way this happens, sometimes there was an argument about some hospitals and and in a budget like this, forty million dollars is suddenly discovered. I can understand that there's a bit of cynicism, on the other hand, I think that if I were going to throw out a program there, that was just a scare tactic, I don't that I would use food stamps, because there are a lot of people who don't think food stamps are something we should even be funding at all. I think there is some honesty there that that would be reduced, and it's a federal program, but the state must administrate it, so there has to be money for that.
You're also talking about, so TOPS, we can argue and probably should have a real debate on whether TOPS is a program that the government should be involved in, you can make the argument that it is keeping people here in the state as opposed to going to Arkansas or Alabama or somewhere that they're staying in Louisiana, and that's a good thing because--where you graduate from says a lot about where you're going to start your business or go to work, but the question is-- is it too broad and the fact is, the barrier is kind of low for receiving it, so anyway, there should be that debate, but there's an uncertainty right now, so I think people are being hurt even by the uncertainty-- so that the next thing is that--clearly ending the food stamps program, people would be hurt.
I mean there are people in this in this state that we know that are very poor and they would be hurt by having those benefits ended. So the question is saying--"well, we really believe that you're just saying this but that if we cut your budget, you would make it work, which is how businesses do this, but we still have private businesses who have to layoff people, shut down offices and other places or move somewhere else, so it comes down to this trust--do you believe that the Edwards administration and the agencies that are that are that are speaking in front of the legislature are they being honest about it, and you know I haven't seen a lot of evidence to say that they're not.
PART 2, TOMORROW