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Now isn't the time for Louisiana to spend like a drunken sailor

Let’s hope the good news from the Revenue Estimating Conference does not trigger the atavistic reflex of all too many Louisianan politicians to embrace the Carnival spirit of living for today, not for tomorrow.

With its estimation of $192 million available currently, in the minds of many it is already spent, for some on health care (obviating the need for a sick tax), other for unneeded teacher raises. To its credit, the Administration has stated it wants to see the windfall go into capital outlay (as long as it doesn’t get plowed into building another useless lake), since this properly should be considered a one-time bonus.

As for next year’s $169 million now believed to be coming, Gov. Kathleen Blanco wants to see it steered to health care. That’s absolutely the right call, as long as that does not lead to a false sense of security that prevents necessary fiscal reforms in Louisiana’s provision of health care. (Still out there, though, is Blanco’s insistence that money has to be provided to pay for as-yet unclaimed corporate welfare for Hollywood.)

But Blanco still wishes to pursue the $1 increase per pack of cigarettes tax to fund the unmerited teacher pay raises. This is strange; by her insistence that next year’s additional funds go to health care, wouldn’t that mean that was top priority? Yet she has pushed far harder this measure to fund a new commitment than she has for making up the existing gap in health care revenues. Why was not the smoker tax dedicated to health care in the first place?

Obviously, the answer is politics. With 50,000 or so classroom teachers in the state, some throwing their weight behind unions dedicated first to sucking money out of taxpayers and incidentally to educating, they pack much more political punch than the poor, sick, and disabled, and it’s only the 20 percent or so of the population that smokes who would pay rather than the much larger segment of the population that would get hit with the sick tax. Kind of like the squeaky wheel getting the grease, those who complain the most will get first dibs on money most easily extracted from the fewest number.

There is also some question about doing the right thing in regards to the higher-than-anticipated oil revenues that constitutionally must go into the Budget Stabilization Fund. Many legislators lick their chops when they see this money being put into the piggy bank and want to declare by fiat it is a rainy day and time to bust it open. Senate Pres. Don Hines only yesterday had his bill to raid the Fund heard in a Senate committee which fortunately did not act on it. Maybe the pressure is off now with this newly “found” money but regardless this impulse needs vigorous resisting.

In all, the state cannot let this windfall make it think that serious fiscal and structural reforms are not necessary. Let’s not turn this state into a lottery winner that subsequently fritters it all away.

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