This concerns the ongoing refusal by Republican House of Representatives Speaker Taylor Barras to approve of a new revenue forecast. One of the four members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which needs all members’ assent to make an official prediction for budgeting purposes, four times now in the past three months Barras or his stand-in have refused to boost that.
Barras has based his refusal on the disappointing performance of oil prices and the inherent inaccuracies that past forecasts have demonstrated. The federal government has lowered its estimate of West Texas Intermediate crude oil for 2019 to around $54 a barrel for most of the year, which would translate into a somewhat lower price over the state’s fiscal year than the REC most recently has figured.
But the forecast cover more than just oil. Factoring in everything, economists from both the Edwards Administration and Legislature have coalesced around the $122 million figure for extra money this year, and $90 million for FY 2020. If oil prices stay in their current range, that would reduce the FY 2019 number by perhaps a quarter.
So, the case to pump up the forecast largely exists. And Barras recognized this, when he said he would vote for an increase subtracting out the hike intended for the general fund portion (into which oil royalties flow), which comprises about half. Moreover, Barras signaled willingness to go along with assigning numbers to fees and dedicated funds for FY 2020, to facilitate budgeting.
However, Edwards’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and ally GOP Senate Pres. John Alario rejected that option, stubbornly holding out for the inclusion of oil revenues based on the risky assessment. From an administrative standpoint, that seems odd: why not go with what Barras could countenance and make it easier to build FY 2020 budgets?
Because Edwards sees more political value in manufacturing controversy than in making sure government works smoothly. The general fund inflation he wants not only to try to deliver on $43 million in contingent spending requests stuffed in this year’s budget but also to come through with a pay increase for teachers and education support staff next year. Both items allow him to claim to policy victories and satisfy constituencies who have backed him, which help his reelection chances.
So, Dardenne has to create a narrative that assigns Barras the role of obstructionist for political purposes. Instead, he needs to look in the mirror: as Edwards’ agent, it’s Dardenne who politicizes the process by obstructing the solution of recognizing the obvious while acting prudently where reasonable and valid doubts remain.
Barras’ flexibility and Dardenne’s intransigence tell the true tale here. The Edwards Administration would rather try to manipulate recklessly the budget process to aid the reelection chances of its boss than to do what’s right by the people.