If ever there was an appropriate analogy to the old expression rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s methods of dealing with successive years of budgetary shortfalls (read: deficits) would have to be it.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) now has openly defied him (each member, even down to former Jindal cabinet appointee Scott Angelle) on his order for the commission to render unto Caesar Jindal 13 PSC vehicles to be included with about 700 other vehicles to be auctioned early next year in an effort to raise some $1.4 million ($2,000 per vehicle).
That is significant because unless we missed something somewhere along the way, that is the very first time any state agency, the legislature included, has stood up to this little bantam rooster. Tommy Teague did and was fired but the agency he headed, the Office of Group Benefits, went quietly to the slaughter like so many sheep.
Legislators, fearing capital outlay cuts in their districts or demotion from plum committee assignments, have likewise been strangely quiet as a group with only the occasional individual protests.
That move of selling off vehicles is more like the analogy of robbing your kid’s piggy bank to meet the mortgage payment than any real solution to a much larger problem and raises the logical question: what will the administration do next to scrape together a few dollars?
And the news only gets worse for Jindal’s fading presidential aspirations (hopes that themselves are a joke because something that doesn’t exist already can’t very well fade.
Even more ominous than ripping vehicles from state agencies, is the looming certainty of more mid-year cuts and employee layoffs in the wake of growing budgetary ills. Those fortunate enough to avert the layoffs will see no merit increases for FY-16 and contract reductions are expected to continue—except for certain favored contractors favored by our transparent governor. No agency head in his right mind would cut funds for a contractor with a close Jindal connections (read: campaign contributions).
In the meantime, we will also be curious to see if any of those six-figure Jindal appointees are among those being laid off. You can most likely check that box “No.”
Jindal, of course (along with most legislators) has been blaming the state’s worsening fiscal condition on the precipitous drop in crude oil prices.
Not so, says long-time state government observer and chief curmudgeon and former legislative assistant C.B. Forgotston.
Here’s the way he explains it:
If one merely looks the “spot” prices regularly reported in the media it seems like much bigger issue. It’s nothing like the “oil bust” of the 1980s. At that time a majority of the state revenues were from oil severance taxes. That is no longer the case.
Additionally, the state’s severance tax revenues are based on the contract price, not the “spot” price that is regularly reported in the media. For example, some of the companies currently drilling in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale have pre-sold their potential finds at $96 per barrel. That is the price on which the taxes will be paid. The consensus in the oil industry is the current downturn in oil prices is temporary. It may last 6 months or it may last a year; it is not a forever thing.
Also reducing the impact on state revenues, as pointed out by Legislative Fiscal Office economist Greg Albrecht, low oil prices means savings for consumers. Their spending shifts to other items on which sales taxes are collected. For businesses, especially small businesses, it means more profit which means higher income taxes.
The major problem in the current budget and creating the $1.4B shortfall projected for next year’s budget is not a reduction in revenues, but overspending. Overall revenues have grown every year that Jindal has been governor. However, he and the legislators have consistently spent not only one-time revenues on recurring expenses, but imagined revenues under the guise of “efficiencies” which cannot be measured.
Blaming oil prices is merely a scapegoat for passing fiscally-irresponsible budgets for the last 7 years. Don’t let those responsible avoid the blame. It’s time to hold Jindal and the legislators’ feet to the fire by telling them to set better priorities based on real, as opposed to imagined, revenues and amorphous efficiencies.
They’ve got one more time to get it right in the 2015 Regular Session. If they don’t the first order of business for the new governor and new legislators in early 2016 will be to hold a special session to raise taxes and reduce services to balance the final Jindal budget.
And lest anyone might be foolish enough to write Forgotston off because he retired and no longer involved in day to day state matters, that would be a serious mistake. But even discounting Forgotston, we have Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, weighing in on the subject. And he is very much involved in the day to day operations of the state.
Albrecht takes a different tact in explaining how we got where we are. http://theadvocate.com/news/11102302-123/economist-greg-albrecht-louisiana-tax
Albrecht says that priorities for spending state revenue on such pesky items as education, infrastructure and social services are set only after we first dole out billions of dollars in tax credits, rebates and exemptions that place a terrific drain on state financial resources.
Here’s one that he didn’t mention but which we feel is worth pointing out: if the NFL awards a Super Bowl to New Orleans, Saints owner Tom Benson gets a cool million dollars from the state. That has already happened once since that condition was included in a generous incentive package negotiated to keep the Saints in New Orleans.
Another practice that has since terminated but which cost the state millions: when a visiting NFL team such as Atlanta, Tampa Bay, etc., played in New Orleans, every traveling member of that team—players, coaches, support personnel, etc.—was required to pay state income tax on 1/16th of his income. That individual, after all, received 1/16th of his salary in Louisiana. As soon as the Louisiana Department of Revenue received a check for those taxes, the state cut a check for an identical amount to Benson.
Albrecht said many of the tax breaks are “open-ended spending” and unappropriated. “It’s on autopilot” and the spending “is the priority” of state government because all other spending is secondary.
He said attempts to curtail the programs have run into resistance in the form of screams of protest from business interests who would be impacted. They consistently deflect talk of costs to the state by parroting the old line about the economic benefits of the programs designed to attract certain businesses or to assist certain segments of the citizenry.
But when Enterprise Zone exemptions are used to build Wal-Mart stores in affluent communities like St. Tammany Parish (where two have been built using the program), one must wonder at the benefits derived from a program designed to uplift pockets of high unemployment.
Companies pay about $500 million to local governments in property taxes on inventory that is considered property and the state simply reimburses those companies dollar for dollar. “We’re on the hook for whatever the local assessor puts down,” Albrecht said. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/12/15/state-gives-away-billion-tax-breaks/20460681/
He said legislators have asked that he examine the various tax breaks for possible cutbacks and while Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which deals with taxes, feels legislation will be filed to alter some of the tax credits, he is realistic in the knowledge that any attempt to amend or eliminate the breaks could be vetoed by this corporate welfare-happy governor.
“The veto pen will determine what passes or not,” Robideaux said. “The question is, ‘Can we craft legislation that will avoid the veto pen?’”
Earlier this year, Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.
But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.
You gotta give Jindal credit for creativity, though. Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.