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Edwards politicizes by calling others political

Politics were on display when Louisiana’s Revenue Estimating Conference met last week ironically with the agent politicizing the process accused another member of doing just that.

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his panel designee Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne didn’t like that the REC – which also has as members the Speaker of the House or his designee, the Senate President or his designee, and an independent economist – refused to bump up the official revenue forecast by $40 million. Both an economist from the Division of Administration and from the Legislature recommended that emendation to the forecast.

The REC sets the revenue baseline for the governor’s executive budget for next fiscal year, released a month into a calendar year, as well as affects whether government may spend more or have to cut in the current fiscal year. An extra $40 million added to the existing forecast helps Edwards politically in three ways: by making it appear the state enjoyed increased prosperity under him, by hiking the baseline thereby giving him more to distribute to favored constituencies next year, and – in an atypical budget arrangement in effect only this year – allows spending contingency funds for specific purposes that total (perhaps not coincidentally) $43.3 million.

However, to recognize that additional money, the panel must agree unanimously. That didn’t happen when House Speaker Taylor Barras’ designee state Rep. Cameron Henry vetoed the change, leading Edwards and Dardenne to complain of “politiciz[ing] this process.” Presumably, an unchanged level denies Edwards these political coups and serves the interests of Republicans Barras and Henry, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in keeping down state spending.

But it was Edwards and Dardenne, joined by GOP state Sen. Pres. John Alario with comments critical of Henry, who by declaring his actions wracked by politics were the ones who actually politicized the event. During the meeting, Henry made the reasonable observation that oil prices have dropped dramatically in the past six weeks, apparently as a host of political and supply factors look to create relative oversupply. Even an average price decline of $2 a barrel over a year would wipe out the believed surplus.

And, there’s no budgetary reason to bake in an increase right now, instead of taking a more cautious approach. Any two REC members can ask for a future meeting at any time to seek a vote to hike revenue. Further, state law mandates that it meets again by the third Monday in March (although it often misses that target) to decide whether to change the forecast, which leaves plenty of time to incorporate any new levels into a budget. It would delay, though, spending on the contingency items.

Keep in mind as well that Barras and Henry actually benefit politically from having official recognition of extra money, because then it affirms their argument made during budget debates of half a year ago that the state collects too much money and didn’t need tax increases ultimately approved then.

Given these circumstances, a chief executive interested in governing would have shrugged off the incident, knowing that if current trends held in a few months nothing politically could stop an increase to his desired level or higher. One interested in politicizing the atmosphere to boost his reelection chances next year would have spouted off as Edwards and his surrogate Dardenne did.

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