Three political forces continue to move towards digging Louisiana out of a tremendous projected budget hole for next fiscal year. The question is, whether they will be able to go far enough, fast enough to prevent unnecessarily harsh spending cuts.
There’s the one majoritarian branch which has shown the greatest progress but at a slow rate. While Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rhetoric sometimes has exceeded results to date, slowly but surely the cautious, incremental reform approach of his administration grinds it way to better prioritized and more efficient state spending. Big moves have been few, yet the little ones are starting to add up. But this approach unlikely to be enough in time to address this dilemma.
Then there’s the other majoritarian branch that makes grand gestures but ends up with not much to show for them, the Legislature. Last year, it convened the Commission for Streamlining Government and its companion the Post-Secondary Education Review Commission which made suggestions from incremental to grand to make state spending more efficient. The Jindal Administration shot layups on the smaller stuff but only mildly pushed for the bigger and the Legislature, lacking any other imperative, whiffed on those. Whether the greater imperative of the crisis will be enough for more sweeping measures this year is another matter.
Finally, there’s the carnival barker trying to mobilize public opinion for his own set of large changes, state Treasurer John Kennedy. He’s been crisscrossing the state stumping for his suggestions which are of uneven quality but some of which are genuinely achievable and can save money. However, it’s unknown whether there’s enough workable tactics on his list to get the job done.
Temperaments political in nature drive these approaches. Jindal has a conservative intellect constrained by technocratic impulses and held hostage by political ambitions, leading him away from bolder but higher risk actions towards safer avenues to avoid failure. Legislators have feet of clay when it comes to anything that might impede their abilities to be perceived as the deliverer of goodies, leading them by themselves to deal with such matters through the path of least resistance rather than with priority and need in mind. Kennedy presents alternatives he has no responsibility over and no ability to deliver, but serving to drum up favorable publicity while he eyes another Senate run in 2014 or to vie to succeed a presumably reelected Jindal in 2015. In short, none of these approaches are going to succeed in addressing satisfactorily this crisis.
To date, the Jindal Administration has done more service to identify problems with some Kennedy’s proposals than it has to come up with any set of proposals on its own. Instead of making hard choices, the House leadership so far as said they want more study (of Kennedy’s proposals) and the Senate leadership is falling back on that path of least resistance by suggesting tax increases. Kennedy continues to push even the unworkable proposals and complains if people don’t like them then to come up with their own. Collectively, this isn’t going to make it.
Since the Legislature controls the purse, ideally a strategy of identifying more efficient spending where real needs have the highest priority would come from there expressed in the budget. It won’t do this, so Jindal must lead in the presentation of his own budget following these guidelines. And he has to go beyond that to begin to correct the fiscal structure of the state that makes prioritized spending difficult to achieve by calling for a special session early next year to present solutions to the voters for this problem.
This takes Jindal out of his comfort zone in his make-government-work-better governing style, where the only bold action he has taken is to declare correctly that tax increases won’t happen. But he’s got to do it, because whatever default position he otherwise would let percolate up from the Legislature has no guarantee that it will involve any thoughtful or rational strategy to deal with spending reductions. That product could prove as disastrous as the tax-and-spend first, ask questions later ethos which has put Louisiana in this bind in the first place.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:45