At this time last week, it appeared the state’s political culture had reached an inflection point. The state’s political class seemed willing to bridge the transition from revenues driving policy to the reverse when the Legislature appeared poised to budget below forecast revenues as a means to prevent shortfalls. A week later, such hope turned out premature.
Yesterday, by the barest of margins, a revolt by Republicans-in-Name-Only allowed a budget amendment to go through to spend all the money available. House leaders had argued for holding back tens of millions of dollars as a hedge to prevent budgetary deficits. If actual future receipts in the upcoming fiscal year suggested hitting predicted marks, then the Legislature would have made the sequestered money available.
The final product did dictate that the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration develop a plan to keep in reserve $60 million, which the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget would monitor and decide whether to release the cache (the chamber narrowly rejected a version that would have made that amount $100 million). A stronger provision than the unenforceable resolution the Senate passed for $50 million during the regular session, nonetheless it presents little obstacle to the Edwards Administration to spend to the hilt and then use the resulting deficit to argue for tax increases.
So, at this time it appears Edwards got the better of conservatives. That can change if a deficit does appear during the next fiscal year that would vindicate conservatives’ view to fuel the perception of Edwards as an imprudent tax-and-spend liberal.
And, the incident unmasked uncompromisingly the RINOs who persist in attitudes that have held back the state. Some blessedly will leave the scene after the end of their terms, facing limitation: state Reps. Bubba Chaney, Patrick Connick, Johnny Guinn, and Rogers Pope. Another, state Rep. Julie Stokes, is running for treasurer this fall, and this vote has signaled that fiscal conservatives should steer clear of her candidacy. This leaves state Reps. Rob Shadoin, Chris Broadwater, Kenny Havard, and Joe Stagni, all of whom should draw serious conservative challengers.
Also needing such an opponent is a fellow traveler of the RINO disease that afflicts Jefferson Parish – from which Connick, Stagni, and Stokes suffer – no-party state Rep. Joe Marino who openly professes sympathy for Edwards. All of the above voted not only to amend into a free-spending version HB 1 yesterday, but a week ago did the same to the regular session’s HB 1.
Add to this group GOP state Rep. Tanner Magee as the decisive vote, who did not support last week’s version. Elections have consequences: suffice to say the incumbent he defeated in 2015, Lenar Whitney, never would have voted so carelessly. Along with Edwards, all of them also will suffer politically should a deficit appear.
Unless the Senate suddenly has a change of heart, unwise fiscal policy continues in Louisiana through this budget. Whether this represents staying power for the Empire or a last gasp will play out from here.