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Edwards shows openness to take disabled hostage

The scorched earth road show must go on, Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards indicated with his line item vetoes of the state fiscal year 2018 operating budget.

Edwards signed the Second Extraordinary Session’s HB 1 earlier this week, but took advantage of the governor’s Constitutional power to excise individual sections or expenditures. While the Legislature as part of a veto session could override these with majority assent in both chambers, that never has happened since enactment of the 1974 Constitution.

He excised only four items, none dealing with a direct expenditure. But two seemed clearly related to a strategy focusing on expanding government rather than budgeting on the basis of genuine needs while allowing citizens to keep more of what they earn.

Since taking office, Edwards repeatedly has resorted to hostage-taking budgetary tactics in order to squeeze tax hikes out of the public. On numerous occasions he has threatened to cut money going to services for people with disabilities unless the Legislature raised taxes. That worked to some extent for FY 2017, but he went on the defensive for the upcoming FY 2018 spending plan, where only minor increases funded essentially a standstill budget.

To moot this strategy, prompted by the House leadership, the Republican-led chambers put in provisions that would disallow reductions over appropriated spending made to waiver programs that benefit the disabled and to behavioral health services, as well as for medical education. This would have made off-limits changes to these programs in Edwards’ Department of Health, an agency with a less-than-stellar track record in efficient operations, preventing reductions of these if necessary by projected revenues falling short.

Of course, Edwards could have created a safety buffer by holding back available dollars as the House originally had wanted that would ameliorate some or all of any potential shortfall. He also could have pursued alternative cost-sharing strategies, sought to eliminate free state health care to most non-elderly able-bodied adults above the poverty line, and reconfigured long-term care that would swell LDH’s available resources by hundreds of millions of dollars. Or, he could have emulated Ohio’s efforts by asking for authority to freeze Medicaid expansion enrollment in time of fiscal stress.

Instead, Edwards vetoed these passages, citing the reduced flexibility LDH would have to manage its finances. But holding back money, asking greater responsibility out of users of government health insurance and care, making more efficient use of long-term care dollars, and not putting abled individuals at the head of the funding line he also had available as policy choices that could prevent reprogramming dollars away from waiver services if it comes to that, and he rejected those options.

This tells us that people with disabilities Edwards continues to think of as pawns first in his gambit to grow government. Those individuals and Louisiana’s citizenry as a whole should recoil at such shameless willingness to wreak havoc to the lives of the state’s vulnerable population in order to pursue a political agenda.

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