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House GOP sensibility wins on politics and principle

In Congress, Republicans lost their majorities last month because they strayed from the conservative principles that resonate with the majority of Americans. In Louisiana, House Republicans appear determined to attempt to gain a majority by not making the same mistake.

Yesterday, a whole raft of free-spending proposals, five in all, by Gov. Kathleen Blanco rubber-stamped by the House Ways and Means Committee (composed of all but two Democrats, one of whom recently switched parties in a bid to try to win a Senate seat later this year) were supposed to hit the floor after debate of HCR 6, the resolution that would have busted the state’s spending cap over $2.4 billion. It would take a two-thirds vote to enable this.

Instead, when the House met, rules were suspended to introduce a new bill which would allow for a tax credit rather than rebate of excess premiums paid by home insurance policyholders in order to prop up the state-run property insurer. The body adjourned, allowed that new piece of legislation to be heard in Ways and Means which rubber-stamped it, then reconvened to close itself for the day after introducing five other resolutions identical to HCR6.

The tactic is to produce vessels in which to allow the spending ceiling to increase for any of the five items already approved and waiting – if the Blanco Administration has the muscle to get any of them through. At this point it does not, hence the quick creation and disposition of HB 120 engineering the insurance tax credit which does not have to adhere to the spending cap as it is a credit and not a return of taxpayers’ monies.

The only other Blanco proposal that appears to have enough support is creating a fund to reward a company potentially building a large steel plant in St. James Parish. But Republicans indicated they believed the incentives provided would be no higher than the current cap, now estimated to be $155 million. With 41 of 105 votes and described to be nearly unanimous in opposing raising the cap, if they stay firm, these are the only two measures with any chance of passing.

If so, this turn of events would produce a stinging defeat for Blanco and cause a backfire of her agenda behind the agenda of the session she called, distributing goodies to buy votes for her reelection attempt next year. Instead, Blanco will appear as ineffective and cannot use the turn of events to raise political capital: how can she campaign against fiscal conservatism in a state well-known for lacking that precise quality?

At the same time, House Republicans will have shown they have the will to impose fiscal discipline in government, and that with any surplus they are interested in solving long-term problems repeatedly ignored by Blanco and Democrats, such as the unfunded accrued liability in retirement accounts the amount of which has grown to nearly half the size of a year’s budget. Such a preference will resonate with voters tired of short-term political considerations taking primacy in budgetary decisions.

Better, the GOP announced they were all for much of the Blanco agenda that promised in part selective tax cuts – but only in the fiscally-prudent manner of cutting spending elsewhere. If they are smart, they will come back in the spring’s regular session with some proposals to do this. Tax cuts alone would be a good idea, and in the ensuing few months the state will be on more solid footing with a better idea of what’s ahead to afford these in the short run (as there will be a lag effect to the increased revenues that will result from tax cuts).

Staying committed to this course of action by the GOP legislators not only is good for the state in the long run, but for their party’s political fortunes as well, as voters will respond positively to this kind of agenda next fall.

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