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Blanco, GOP play chicken again; will GOP blink this time?

Once again, in a different way than last December, a game of chicken has emerged between the Democrats that control Louisiana’s government and the minority Republican legislators. Last time Gov. Kathleen Blanco blinked. Will the same happen six months later?

In last year’s special session, even as they comprised only about 40 percent of the membership of the House, Louisiana Republicans managed to prevent huge new spending increases sponsored by Blanco and backed by her Democrat legislative leaders because the Louisiana people thoughtfully had amended the state Constitution to prevent growth of government spending faster than growth of the economy. To override this spending cap required a two-thirds vote, and with only a very few Republicans defecting, that spending was defeated.

Six months later, Blanco has used two dynamics to neuter this strategy as she again plans massive spending increases. First, her administration made estimates using methods questionable, if not outright violating, the Constitution to calculate a limit far in excess of the intentions behind that amendment. Second, she shifted monies into almost all of the almost two dozen dedicated funds parts of state spending practice, which do not count against the cap because they technically aren’t spent (but may be for the funds’ purposes starting Jul. 1) – a tactic not really available to her six months ago because the Jul. 1 start of the fiscal year was so far off.

This left the GOP with one recourse where as much as a two-thirds vote was needed – HB 3, the bill that permits the state to borrow money. They defeated it seven votes short of two-thirds, in essence holding over $5 billion in capital outlay requests hostage.

But that sounds more dramatic than it actually is. In reality, perhaps 5 percent of this authorized spending will occur within the next year because the state also has a borrowing limit. Still, it puts a project in a pipeline for money which, more often than not, means it eventually will get funded, even if it’s a decade later.

Drawing closer to state elections this fall than a year ago accentuating the electoral consequences of decisions, more defection among Republicans may occur before their leaders can broker a deal to reduce spending and increase tax cuts in exchange for letting HB 3 go through. The companion bill to it, HB 2, contains some projects that some of the “Republicans in Name Only” who were elected as Democrats who are running for reelection or for Senate seats, such as state Rep. Billy Montgomery, or liberal Republicans like the non-term-limited state Rep. Tom McVea.

Among the seven representative missing the vote, five were Democrats meaning if party loyalty held (not a single Democrat voted against it), there are 68 votes. Both Montgomery and McVea not only voted for HB 3, they also voted against an HB 1 amendment to cut back spending. If these two RINOs fall back into their liberal spending ways, Republicans lose. But if the GOP leadership can minimize the total defections to one, always having at least 36 opposed, they will win for a second time in six months – and again making the people of Louisiana winners against a reckless, out-of-control bloated state government.

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