State and local agencies, aided by citizen volunteers, worked commendably to rescue, evacuate, and provide shelter and provisions to those affected by the disaster. Compared to the dysfunctional responses by the state and New Orleans concerning the hurricane disasters of 2005, state and local governments have learned lessons. In this kind of situation, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards showed much more of the cool resolve of his Republican predecessor former Gov. Bobby Jindal than the flustered response of his Democrat predecessor and current appointee former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
But politics seem destined to enter the fray over who pays what. While about a third of the state’s parishes eventually expect to become eligible for federal disaster relief funds, almost certainly state and local governments will have to pay some costs. Federal regulation permits the executive branch to reduce three-fifths of the 25 percent match by state government provided that the total cost, in Louisiana’s case, exceeds around $579 million (although some spending in the first ten days of the declared disaster may receive full reimbursement). Even if substantial, projected costs unlikely will turn out that high, leaving the state on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.
The state has the option of involving local government in cost-sharing for disasters, and local governments additionally have access to low-interest loans from the federal government to rebuild infrastructure that the state might fund. Otherwise, only statutory changes by Congress, which require presidential approval, or use of presidential authority that can waive most costs in will reduce the bill.
In a similar situation emanating from Hurricane Isaac during Jindal’s second term, Democrat Pres. Barack Obama refused to waive state costs that he could, which ended up costing Louisiana at least $30 million. Yet now that Democrat Edwards occupies the Governor’s Mansion (when not flooded) and battles budgetary difficulties the extra expense would aggravate, Obama probably would pry open national taxpayers’ wallets to spring for much of the state’s bill. After all, the less fiscal pressure Edwards faces, the more palatable another term for him would seem to voters.
However, not all state disaster bills will come due before early 2017. For these, although Democrat Hillary Clinton gaining voter assent to reoccupy the White House likely would emulate Obama on this issue, Republican Donald Trump if elected might not. In that case, Edwards could use the owed money as an excuse to maintain higher taxes, if not hike these further still, opposed by the Republican legislative majorities.
Louisiana comes together in times of need. But when the waters recede, look for partisanship to intrude upon financing for addressing the crisis.