Thursday (Feb. 25) was an unusually big day in politics, even by Louisiana standards.
The big news in Baton Rouge on Thursday was House passage of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ one-cent sales tax (minus the assessment on manufacturing) but the action was quickly overshadowed by a credit rating downgrade by Moody’s. http://theadvocate.com/news/14993547-79/moodys-downgrades-louisianas-credit-rating
The state also received a “negative outlook” from Moody’s, meaning the state could be downgraded again.
Coupled with the sales passage, which must now go to the Senate for a vote, was additional cuts of $100 million in state spending and the taking of $128 million from the rainy day fund. With the $60 million already cut by the Edwards administration, Thursday’s action will make up about $700 million of the $900 million needed by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
The downgrade was the first for the state since Hurricane Katrina and the lower rating means when borrowing money, the state will have to pay higher interest rates.
And just to add a touch of spice to an already politically volatile state, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell announced on the Jim Engster Show on Thursday that he will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. David Vitter. http://www.jimengster.com/
Campbell, an outspoken PSC member and a former state senator, is the second Democrat to enter the already crowded field of senatorial hopefuls. So far, U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, Jr. of the state’s 3rd Congressional District and John Fleming of the 4th District, State Treasurer John Kennedy and U.S. Air Force veteran Rob Maness, all Republicans, a second Democrat, New Orleans attorney Caroline Fayard, and, of course, the former director of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the inimitable Troy Hebert, an Independent.
A debate between all the candidates could be reminiscent of the early debates between the 17 original candidates for the Republican president nomination—but without the charm, sparkle and depth of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, a lot less fun.
Maness was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate seat won by Bill Cassidy in 2014 and Fayard was defeated in a special election for lieutenant governor in 2010 by Jay Dardenne.
Campbell, something of a throwback to the populist candidates of another era, is outspoken on issues, particularly with utility companies and the oil and gas industry, and while in the State Senate, he crossed party lines to lend strong support to then-Gov. Dave Treen’s proposed Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL), a $450 million tax on petroleum and natural gas. Campbell today says had CWEL passed, the state would not be in the financial bind in which it now finds itself. But strong opposition by LABI and the oil and gas lobby defeated the proposal.
In a related but relative minor matter, LouisianaVoice received one of those “independent political polls” that was so obviously commissioned by Rep. Fleming that it may as well have been conducted by the good congressman himself.
The questions were prefaced by glowing stories of Fleming’s humble background and how he pulled himself by the bootstraps to not only become a doctor but to establish “numerous businesses,” one of which just happened to be a payday loan company that preys on low-income citizens, hooking them for exorbitant interest rates.
At the same time, the pollster, a woman, set up other questions about the other candidates with disparaging background stories on Boustany, Fayard and Kennedy (Maness was omitted, possibly in deference to his military service) that stopped just short of labeling them as subversives. Also omitted from the verbal flogging was Campbell, obviously only because he was not a declared candidate at the time Fleming wrote the questions for the poll.
Louisiana’s credit rating was not changed by Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, the other two major financial rating agencies.
But Moody’s move, dropping the state from Aa2 to Aa3 leaves Louisiana with better credit ratings than just two other states, New Jersey and Illinois. The downgrade will be applied to the state’s general obligation bonds and gas and fuel tax bonds. That means in turn that when the state issues bonds to finance construction projects such as roads and public buildings, it will have to pay higher interest rates on the borrowed money.
The move came as a surprise as most observers, including Kennedy, though Moody’s would wait until the Legislature completed the current special session, which is scheduled to end March 9.
Kennedy used the downgrade to take shots at both Bobby Jindal and Gov. Edwards. “You can’t spend more taxpayer money than you take in for seven years in a row and not expect a downgrade to your credit rating,” Kennedy said. “You also can’t make public statements about suspending TOPS, ending LSU football, closing Nicholls State University and closing five prisons without scaring the daylights out of the credit rating agencies that grade our debt and the institutional investors that buy our debt. What we tell our children is true: Acts have consequences.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14993547-79/moodys-downgrades-louisianas-credit-rating#comments
Edwards, meanwhile, blamed the downgrade on the seven years of patchwork budgeting by the Jindal administration, calling it “a disappointing development, particularly since we believed that Moody’s would wait until the conclusion of the special session to make any decision on our rating. Unfortunately, the downgrade confirms what we’ve been saying about the structural imbalance of our budget. The overuse and abuses of one-time money and fund sweeps by the Jindal Administration were a major factor in this decision.”