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Session vote signals recoupling of "hawks" to GOP

We’ll see how pledged gubernatorial candidate state Rep. John Bel Edwards does in that 2015 contest, but he’s likely to have to get along without being able to point to policy victories handed to him by a Republican Party divided in the House of Representatives.

In response to a query about getting minority House Democrats into a coalition with disgruntled chamber Republicans known as the “fiscal hawks,” Edwards opined that he thought the same grouping can be resurrected on issues beyond the specifics of the fiscal year 2014 budget that the pairing had major influence upon. This came after it was known there would be no unprecedented veto override session where some line item vetoes of that budget were by far the most publicized, because the typical patterns of voting had been followed.

That is, since Gov. Bobby Jindal became governor, every year most Democrats in the House have not returned their ballots to indicate that an override session should happen. This year, only two of the 38 returned ballots to indicate no session necessary came from Democrats, down from six the previous year. By contrast, each year a solid majority of Republicans have returned ballots; last year 45 did so, while this year 35 (about three-fifths) did.

Democrats will emulate this trend for two reasons, because more are invested in seeing larger government with more spending and vetoes get rid of spending where they don’t care about spending perhaps as much as a million more dollars of taxpayer money to have the session in order to try to override these, and to try to sully Jindal by forcing a question on his vetoes, if not overturning them.  Just as our Savior remarked about the poor, almost all Democrats wanting an override session we shall always have with us with a Republican governor casting vetoes.

However, interestingly the drop in Republican requests to cancel is almost entirely due to switches from last year from self-identified “hawks,” almost all of whom last year voted to cancel. Ten of the 16 such Republican House members did not send in a ballot this year. Yet this trend should not be oversold, given that this year a great deal of attention was placed upon vetoes that would have expanded spending in all but one instance spending on services for the developmentally disabled and that some House members, safe in the knowledge the Senate would send in more than enough ballots to cancel, deferred to make themselves less likely to receive political upbraiding by advocates for this spending.

Still, that “hawks” seemed disproportionately likely to join with Democrats in the House does not mean there’s any kind of long-term hope for this coalition. Keep in mind that Democrats wanted to use the hawks to expand spending, and the hawks were looking for anybody that would allow them to strike a symbolic blow that didn’t really change anything substantively by wringing out the budget’s “one-time money” – a combination of recurring and nonrecurring funds that does not initially come from general fund revenue. It just so happens that these interests converged this past session when the “hawks” ironically turned to a source of one-time money, an amnesty on uncollected taxes, to allow Democrats to push through a budget well in excess of what Jindal had proposed, even considering the appearance of a surplus late in the session.

And that combination still might be good next year, for reliance on the amnesty threatens an undercount of actual dollars that will throw the budget out of balance. As a result, the Jindal Administration may want substantial one-time money the “hawks” consider bad to replace the lack of one-time money that received their blessing, which may trigger their jihad again.

Then again, this past session two pieces of legislation the group endorsed came into law that may make them less willing future defectors to their party and its ideology. One deals with the ability to draw surplus monies from dedicated funds, which now disallows drawing out more than the balance prior to predicted revenues for the upcoming year; the other makes a bookkeeping procedural change in the budgeting process in the circumstance that funding for health care and higher education drops from the prior year. The former addresses a situation that never has happened, and the latter makes no substantive difference in budget production. Yet with these in place, the “hawks” might be satisfied enough to declare victory and return to the GOP fold.

For, despite the fact they supported an expansion of government opposed by many others of their party after they initially called for a large tax increase and got a small one, the “hawks” do identify themselves as Republicans and allegedly believe in the tenets of smaller, less intrusive government built upon genuine needs served matched to appropriate funding. But they differ in that they have gravitated towards a populist solution that puts style – a fatwa against what they define as unclean kinds of one-time money, which has nothing to do with budget stability – ahead of a principled approach that concentrates on substance – actual reform of the state fiscal system, that may draw too much money from the people, to ensure that genuine needs are funded in accordance with their priority rankings.

In the final analysis, the “hawks” sending in ballots may have done so simply because they thought the vetoed spending was not important enough to restore given the cost of a session and relative to all other priorities. If so, they are thinking more like their other partisans, two-thirds of whom voted to cancel, and this casts doubt upon whether the 2013 coalition can be reconstructed.

It’s possible the deeply-embedded populist impulse in Louisiana’s political culture will triumph among the “hawks” and enable their continued exploitation by Democrats that empowered the moribund minority during the latest session. But more likely conditions have changed, as evidenced by the override vote, and will change further as time passes to have made the events of this past spring unusual and unlikely to recur.

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