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Vote against cap beach then, for it now principled

Fifteen months ago it was Republicans in the Louisiana House of Representatives that complained about having, and eventually obstructed, a two-thirds override vote to allow the state by a Democrat governor to spend beyond its constitutional cap. Nine months ago they did the same, that time unsuccessfully. Now many are arguing to bust the cap in order for the state to spend a shade over a billion dollars on nonrecurring items supported by the Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, which have led some, including Democrat lawmakers, to accuse them of inconsistency. But such an accusation is entirely disingenuous and ignores the facts relevant to each situation.

In December, 2006, then-Gov. Democrat Kathleen Blanco called a special session on the heels of the latest Revenue Estimating Conference report that declared substantial nonrecurring and recurring surpluses; the former may be spent only on a narrow range of items that are capital/one-time in nature while the latter may be spent on any purpose. Her call provided for spending in both categories. Even though the call contained some worthy nonrecurring items similar to what Jindal has proposed for the current session, Republicans feared that since the cap breach could not be tied to a specific set of proposals that Blanco could shove through expenditures on recurring items they thought unwise. With over a third of the House’s membership Republican and most holding fast, the resolution never succeeded and Blanco’s spending never materialized.

In June, 2007 during the regular session it was a different story, in somewhat of a different way. The last stand made by the GOP legislators came not on the resolution to break the cap, but on the bill that would authorize borrowing for the capital outlay budget, also requiring a two-thirds majority which really had nothing to do with the cap. That vote was used as a bargaining chip to get Blanco to reduce spending on nonrecurring items. It failed, as she got it and the GOP put up no effort to block the resolution concerning the spending cap. As a result, much more dollars representing recurring commitments were voted into law, creating a budgetary headache for the state that the Jindal Administration will start dealing with during the regular session.

In March, 2008, Jindal’s legislative allies propose only dealing with the nonrecurring revenues, even if the call, loaded with the nonrecurring items, is broad enough to encompass the recurring surplus. Still, any popping of the cap by resolution would apply only to the nearly-past 2007-08 budget which runs until Jun. 30. So as long as legislative leaders are careful in their bills wordings and watchful to prevent anything that would spend money that is recurring in this present budget year from going anywhere, this means a vote lifting the cap will support only the one-time priorities identified by the administration.

Thus, one’s views on various spending cap scenarios past and present do not rely solely upon the attitude “where you stand depends on where you sit,” as one backwoods Democrat populist mistakenly put it. If you believe the state should spend money on prudent one-off purposes such as strengthening under-funded pensions, building needed roads and ports, and providing for coastal restoration, but don’t believe most if any new recurring commitments should be made, then a vote against cap-busting in 2006 is consistent with a vote for it in 2008. In other words, there is no irony in that those who were against it then but who now are for it are not necessarily acting out of convenience, but out of principle.

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