All throughout the first part of the year, Edwards predicted doom and gloom to Louisiana’s budget that only enormous tax increases could balance. He kept insisting that, instead of making unilateral modest spending reductions of around five percent across most agencies, he largely could not cut his way to balancing last fiscal year’s budget, prompting a special session prior to this year’s regular session to hike taxes. Concerning this year’s version, he kept asserting that a cut-first strategy would gut vital programs that demanded more tax increases in another special session. After that, even though he voted for and signed $2.4 billion worth of tax increases in a 13-month span, he still talked about the disappointment of not gulping down more taxpayer dollars to stave off cuts a recalcitrant Republican-led Legislature forced upon him.
These included around $700,000 reduced from the Governor’s Office, which received over $9.1 million in funding this year, compared to last year, a 7.7 percent drop (over the original figure; that declined a bit through mid-year cuts). Edwards moaned about how this meant some staff reductions, where already the governor had budgeted some $200,000 fewer for personnel.
But, lo and behold, the presumed gap between actual funding and alleged necessity disappeared when faced with this imperative. Seven vacant jobs went unfilled, with other staffers taking on these responsibilities. He reduced contracts for legal and technology services and cut supplies and other expenses.
In other words, he corroborated an argument made by many legislators. Perhaps best demonstrated by GOP state Rep. Mike Johnson during just a few minutes of questions and answers over the budget of the biggest spending agency, by far, in Louisiana, the Department of Health, plenty of opportunity exists in the budget to shave off expenses here and there. Had all agencies only replicated the nearly 8 percent cut from Edwards’ bailiwick with their just their general fund and statutory dedication dollars, this would have obviated every single penny of tax increases passed in 2016’s First Extraordinary Session.
Across-the-board cuts typically don’t constitute the best way to put government on a diet – rank ordering programs and then slicing away the least needed works more efficiently – but do illustrate that agencies can find marginal savings from administrative expenses and repositioning tasks without sacrifice of service provision when push comes to shove. But they will take these steps only when policy-makers insist.
Edwards didn’t, but Republican legislators boxed him into that. Taxpayers owe them a debt of gratitude and should insist upon more of the same, and that he get with this program, over the next three years that he occupies the Governor’s Mansion.