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Procedural maneuvers keep sane budget hopes alive

When the Gov. Kathleen Blanco Administration got the advantage on Louisiana House Republicans last week on HB 3, it seemed curious why they didn’t press their advantage. Now we see it is part of a more complicated strategy demonstrating House Republicans still have fight in them to bring more sane spending practices to the state.

HB 3 is the enabling bill to bond out capital outlay projects listed in HB 2, but requires a two-thirds vote. Enough of the minority House Republicans have voted against it to keep it from passing. But last week it appeared enough defections among them would occur to allow Democrat Blanco’s House Democrat leadership to ram it through – and they did, but only after some delay as negotiations continued concerning the GOP’s next tactic.

As now revealed publicly, this reverted to the one they pulled off in last year’s special session, regarding the state’s spending cap. The Constitution allows spending by state government in a year to grow only as fast as the economy; spending beyond that requires the two-thirds vote which enough Republicans can block, and did months ago.

The issue returned because the Blanco Administration’s strategy for new spending of non-recurring funds was to place them in a supplemental appropriations bill HB 765, as the total new recurring spending by Blanco contained in the main budget bill HB 1, with some budgetary tricks with numbers and funds placement, still could be contained under the state’s spending cap. This puts the non-recurring expenditures at risk for blockading, a clever move by Blanco because the Republicans’ real objections are against the recurring spending.

Included in HB 765 are some disaster recovery measures including infrastructure and operating payment assistance for local governments, capital outlay requests at the local level and some at the state level for education and roads, funds to cover legal judgments against the state and, biggest single item of all, a cash infusion of the Road Home Program as Blanco’s mismanagement of it has left it short of funds. In short, blocking this through spending cap objections will give Blanco a chance to claim Republicans are against all of these things, in order to build general public pressure against them and specifically to work over some GOP legislators by using the local capital items as leverage for favorable votes on the cap raising.

Not so clever, of course, are the Democrats’ present rhetorical attacks on Republicans on the issue. Democrat caucus leader state Rep. Eric LaFleur said Republicans had their chance to make changes to the operating budget when it was moving through the House. “The place to make those cuts was in HB 1,” – ignoring the fact that the Democrats manipulated the process they controlled to make its almost impossible for Republicans to vote against the HB 1 measures because it contained too many items on which Republicans agreed for most to vote against it, forcing them to swallow the objectionable spending along with the necessary and good.

And to underscore the economic policy ignorance of the Blanco Administration, its spokeswoman Marie Centanni pouted, “What Rep. [GOP leader Jim] Tucker fails to point out is that tax cuts have the same effect on the budget as recurring expenditures, and both must be weighed equally in this debate.” Clearly, no one in it is learned enough to understand the Laffer Curve – and Louisiana definitely is on the side of it that would produce greater revenues to government through increased tax collections from increased productivity than those foregone by lowering marginal tax rates.

Passage of HB 765 as early as today will identify what spending is contingent. Then parts of it will be used by Blanco to try to break GOP solidarity on the issue. That 23 of them gathered to announce their opposition to increasing the cap shows about 20 more seem to be open to negotiation – and Blanco needs only about two-thirds of them to win.

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