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One of LouisianaVoice’s regular readers commented on Wednesday’s post that “half of Congress is occupied by communists” and “half of the supposed ‘good guys’ are swamp creatures that lie to get elected (only half?) and don’t really want the change that got them elected.”

And then he wrote, “Lay off of Trump. You sat by for 8 years as Obama raped and pillaged our country. He turned the IRS and intelligence agencies against us. He made deals with Iran as they chanted ‘death to America.’ Trump isn’t anyone’s savior but at least I don’t have to wonder if he truly hates this country like I did with Osama…I mean Obama.”

Oh dear, where to start? First of all, he every right to his opinion and the right to express it. But saying that “half of Congress is occupied by communists” is such an all-encompassing, paint-em-all-with-the-same-broad-brush kind of generalization that is all too common to people who go off on tangents and post unsubstantiated comments such as that. How can anyone say half of the 535 members of the House and Senate are communists when at the very most, he may have met a half-dozen of them for five minutes? That is such an inane comment that it really doesn’t even warrant dignifying with a rebuttal, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Obama “pillaged our country”? Just how, exactly, did he “pillage” the country? As I recall, Enron self-destructed in 2003, the housing bubble burst, Lehman Brothers went belly up and Bank of America acquired the cratering Merrill Lynch in 2008 near the end of George W. Bush’s term. Moreover, the entire affair was precipitated by the deregulation of financial institutions during the Reagan years.

True enough, Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to prosecute the Wall Street bankers who brought on the collapse. That much I’ll give you and I still harbor resentment toward both Obama and Holder over that colossal malfeasance in failing to go after those thieves. You just know if some street thug had robbed a bank of a hundred bucks, he’d see hard time. Yet, those bankers stole billions—and walked away. Some were even paid bonuses of tens of millions of dollars for their trouble.

(You’d think we would’ve learned our lesson with the savings and loan debacle back in the final two decades of the Twentieth Century. William Black even wrote a prophetic book called The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. Who knew then that the S&L collapse would reoccur on a much larger scale with the investment banks?)

And that “deal” with Iran is apparently the $150 billion Trump said Obama “gave” Iran. Pulitzer Prize-winning POLITIFACT says Trump got the name of the country right but that was about the extent of his accuracy. The $150 billion, you see, was Iran’s to begin with but had been frozen under several economic sanctions levied against the country. The money—their money—was released following verification by nuclear inspectors that Iran was complying with an agreement to curb its nuclear program. I suppose, though, if our reader got his information from BREITBART, he would have a somewhat different take on the whole affair.

And I just flat-out refuse to hold Obama responsible for the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina as some of Trump’s supporters continue to do. After all, the man wasn’t even president then and had only been in the Senate eight months. I actually heard one woman in Denham Springs mutter in disgust, “Thanks, President Obama” when she found the post office closed on Columbus Day—a federal holiday since 1968.

Finally, in response to the request to “lay off of trump”: not a chance in hell.

He has the chutzpa to question Obama’s loyalty to this country while choosing (typically of the TrumpCult) to overlook the fact that Trump has feuded with CNN, MSNBC, Time magazine, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Hispanics, and The New York Times—but strangely never with the Nazis, David Duke, Jason Kessler, or Vladimir Putin. All of which begs the question of where Trump’s loyalties lie.

Nope, I’m not going “lay off of Trump,” or the rest of the Repugnantcan gang of thugs who want to award generous—and permanent—tax breaks to the wealthy while doling out meager temporary breaks to the middle class and the poor.

  • Especially when Trump and his EPA Administrator have proposed the repeal of the Clean Power Plan which will give the go-ahead for polluting companies to pollute even more. That EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, you may remember, filed numerous suits against the EPA while Oklahoma attorney general which, I suppose, somehow makes him the perfect candidate to run the agency. Maybe I should sue Microsoft in hopes of being named the new CEO.
  • Especially when Trump appoints his budget director Mick Mulvaney to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by (ahem) the Obama administration to protect Americans from predatory lenders and faulty mortgages—like the very ones that nearly brought down the world economy in 2008. Mulvaney, by the way, once called the bureau “a joke…in a sick, sad way.”
  • Especially when I read a story from 24/7 Wall Street just this week about the top 50 corporations that park their assets offshore. Of those 50 companies, which have a combined $1.7 trillion stashed in overseas accounts, 10 are healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, three are big oil, two are insurance giants, five are military contractors, five are computer companies and internet providers and 11 (count ‘em) are financial companies—many of the ones whose criminal activity (never prosecuted by Attorney General Holder) brought about the 2008 crash that necessitated the federal bailout.

Those 50 corporations, along with all the others, no doubt, have located enough loopholes to make their 35 per cent tax rate. Despite their bitching and moaning that the rate is too high, the 50 averaged just over 25 percent in effective tax rates.

  • AIG, one of the companies that gave us the 2008 recession, for example had an effective tax rate of minus 5 percent, meaning it not only paid no taxes, but actually got money. Likewise, General Motors had an effective rate of minus 32.9 percent.
  • Morgan Stanley, another of those Wall Street bankers who torpedoed the economy, had an effective tax rate of 17.2 percent, less than half the supposed rate of 35 percent. Bank of America, yet another of the rogue Wall Street bankers, had an effective tax rate of 17.9 percent.
  • The pharmaceutical company Allergan had an effective tax rate of zero.

What was your personal tax rate again?

Just take comfort in the knowledge that the biggest tax breaks under this bill go them that got—corporations and the filthy rich.

The wealthiest 1 percent of people worldwide have more wealth than the rest of the earth’s population combined.

Just eight individuals possess more wealth than 3.6 billion people—half the world’s population.

True, not all of those live in the U.S. But let that sink in and be proud for those who will realize the most generous tax breaks under this bill. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself by clicking HERE. (Be sure to scroll down to the illustration of the spheres of influence.)

Trump and the Republicans in Congress, having failed in every effort to repeal Obamacare, are now so desperate to accomplish something, anything, before standing for reelection next year (the full House and one-third of the Senate), that they are flailing away like a blindfolded man in a martial arts tournament in a near-hysterical effort to get this ill-advised tax bill passed.

Those who proudly call themselves advocates of good ol’ American capitalism will rail against the redistribution of wealth, spitting out the term as if it were a vulgarism of the vilest sort. But a dramatic redistribution of wealth has been taking place for the past several decades. And it has been—and continues to be—redistributed upward, not downward. That’s the dirty little secret they will never discuss because that kind of redistribution is perfectly okay.

And know, too, that there is only one reason to park money offshore: to dodge taxes.

How much do you have sheltered in the Cayman Islands? Or Aruba? Or Belize?

Didn’t think so. Yet, it is the white middle class and white working poor, the ones who make up the core of the 35 percent that comprises the TrumpCult, who are being screwed by this clown and the Republicans in Congress.

And the saddest part is they don’t even know it.

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Only in Louisiana.

A lawsuit filed in 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish challenging the legality of the proposed approval of $450 million in industrial tax exemptions raises two immediate questions:

  • What are Projects Magnolia, Zinnia, Bagel and Sunflower/Sunflower Seed?
  • Why is the Ascension Parish Council being so secretive about the true identities?
  • Why did the Ascension Parish Council’s Finance Committee not follow the law in considering the proposed tax exemptions?
  • Most important of all, what is the Ascension Parish Council trying to hide?

These are all questions to which plaintiffs Dr. Henrynne Louden, George Armstrong and Lana Williams are seeking answers in their petition filed last Friday.

On Sept. 12, the council’s Finance Committee, which in truth is comprised of all 11 council members, met and added to its agenda for the full council meeting of Sept. 21 Item 7, calling for the consideration of “resolutions to award industrial tax exemption at levels recommended by the Ascension Economic Development board for the following projects:

  • Project Magnolia;
  • Project Zinnia;
  • Project Bagel;
  • Project Sunflower/Sunflower Seed.

Altogether, the four projects would cost Ascension Parish $55.6 million—for a grand total of 32 new jobs, or $1.7 million per job.

To see the lawsuit in its entirety, click HERE.

Ascension_code_names.PNG

“The identity of the projects on the agenda for the meeting of the council held on September 21, 2017, are fictitious,” the lawsuit says, adding that neither the plaintiffs “nor any other member of the public could determine, from a review of the consent agenda:

  • The identity of the company (or companies) seeking the benefit of an industrial tax exemption;
  • The amount of the exemption sought for each project;
  • The cost of granting each of the exemptions;
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of the Louisiana State Constitution, or
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73.

“There are two things at issue in this suit,” said a spokesperson for an organization calling itself Together Louisiana: “Whether public subsidies can be approved by a public body without disclosing the identity of the entity receiving the subsidies, and whether reasonably specific public notices must be provided regarding approval of such subsidies.”

Article 7, Section 21(F) of the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 spells out the requirements for approval of the ad valorem tax exemptions for new manufacturing facilities.

“After being elected,” the lawsuit says, Gov. John Bel Edwards determined that the Board of Commerce and Industry “…had approved industrial tax exemptions contracts ultimately resulting in an average of $1.4 billion in foregone ad valorem tax revenue each year for the next five years for parishes, municipalities, school districts and other political subdivisions of the state that directly provide law enforcement, water and sewage, infrastructure, and educational opportunities to Louisiana citizens.”

On Oct. 21, 2016, Gov. Edwards issued Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73 entitled “Amended and Restated Conditions for Participation in the Industrial Tax Exemption.”

The executive order requires that the governor and Board of Commerce and Industry be provided with a resolution adopted by, among others, “the relevant governing parish council, signifying, “whether it is in favor of the project,” the lawsuit says.

The executive order further says that contracts for industrial tax exemptions which do not include a resolution by the relevant local governing authority “will not be approved by the governor.”

The agenda for the Sept. 12 Finance Committee meeting, the plaintiffs say in their petition, “failed to indicate that (it) would be considering whether or not to approve a resolution signifying that the council was in favor of one or more industrial tax exemption.” Despite failing to include the item on its agenda, the Finance Committee did, in fact, recommend approval by the council of such a resolution, placing the committee, the lawsuit says, in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

“Not only are meetings of the public bodies to be open,” the lawsuit says, (but) “citizens have the right to know—in advance—the subject matter upon which governing bodies will deliberate and vote.”

The state’s open meeting laws require posting written notices of the agenda of all meetings “no later than 24 hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the meeting” and “shall include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting.”

The committee’s violation of the open meeting laws, the plaintiff say, deprived the public of the right to:

  • Know what was being considered by the Finance Committee;
  • Directly participate in the deliberations of the Finance Committee;
  • Protect themselves from secret decisions made without any opportunity for public input.

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare actions of both the Finance Committee and the full council void as provided by law.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys, Brian Blackwell and Charles Patin of Baton Rouge are, in all probability, correct in their interpretation of the state’s open meeting laws (Article XIL, Section 3 of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution and Louisiana Revised Statute 42:19).

But this is Louisiana and it has been the experience of LouisianaVoice and other members of the media that the law is whatever some judge says it is. Judges apparently have wide discretion in concocting their own interpretations of the law to accommodate whomever the judges wish to accommodate—usually campaign donors.

The three plaintiffs in this case have the full moral support of LouisianaVoice but the reality is there is usually negligible correlation between law and justice once you walk through those courtroom doors.

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When I was a student at Louisiana Tech, I worked part time as a disc jockey at KRUS radio station in Ruston. Occasionally, I would have a “Golden Oldies Show,” during which I played only old rock & roll records.

I saw a story in the Washington Post recently that conjured up memories of old news stories and at the same time made me wonder if the Republicans in Congress were paying attention all those years.

The story, headlined, “GOP abandons any pretense of fiscal responsibility,” noted that the Republican Party has essentially abandoned its platform of fiscal restraint, “pivoting sharply in a way that could add trillions of dollars in federal debt over the next decade.”

https://politicalwire.com/2017/10/07/gop-abandons-pretense-fiscal-responsibility/

So, doing the minimum research, it was almost too easy to find stories that reveal that the tax cuts proposed by Trump would further widen the gap between wealthy and low-income Americans. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/42177-trump-s-proposed-tax-cuts-would-further-widen-the-gap-between-rich-and-poor

The Trump-led (and that’s a very loose term) Republican tax reform would cut taxes for the very rich and place the burden on the rest of us.

In 1970, the bottom 50 percent of U.S. wage earners averaged $16,000 a year in today’s dollars. In 2014, that figure had skyrocketed to $16,200.

The top 1 percent, meanwhile, saw their average income increase from an average of $400,000 a year to $1.3 million during the same time period, hardly enough to keep the lawn watered in the Hamptons.

Some might dismiss these sources as typical liberal media, but the conservative U.S. News & World Report seems to agree with their assessments.

More than two years ago, on May 20, 2015, the magazine ran a story headed simply as THE PARTY of RED INK.

That story did cite the $1.2 billion budget deficit that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Mally left for his Republican successor, but for the rest of its story, USN&WR hammered one Republican state governor after another. Those included our own wunderkind Bobby Jindal (a $1.6 billon deficit), Chris Christie (a staggering $7.35 billion structural budget deficit), Scott Walker of Wisconsin ($2.2 billion deficit), and Sam Brownback of Kansas ($1 billion shortfall).

Their collective answer to these budgetary nightmares? Cut taxes.

But along with tax cuts go cuts to services.

Back when I was a student at Tech—and given, that’s been a long time; Terry Bradshaw was emerging as a top draft pick back then—my tuition was $99. Today, my grandson, a computer engineering student at Tech, is forking over $9,000 per quarter to stay enrolled.

In Louisiana, cuts to higher education, public education, referral services to the mentally ill, services to children with disabilities, foster child services, and other cuts have had devastating results. Yet, the Republicans go merrily along with their vision of fiscal reform.

Jindal’s obsession with tax cutting, service cutting, and privatization was such a dismal failure that Newsweek on June 1, 3015, published a story headlined HOW BOBBY JINDAL BROKE the LOUISIANA ECONOMY.

But a March 26, 2015, story was even more revealing. That story, admittedly by a partisan Democrat writer, nevertheless cited a report by an outfit called WalletHub, a commercial personal financial web site that rated all 50 states on their dependence on federal dollars to prop up their respective economies.

The REPORT basically said that red states, America’s stalwarts of fiscal responsibility, suck more money out of the federal treasury than any others and that some of the poorest states, of which Louisiana is certainly one, depend on federal funding for 30 to 42 percent of their total revenue.

Louisiana depends on federal dollars for 42.2 percent of its budget That just happens to be the highest percentage in the nation. Mississippi is right behind, drawing 42.1 percent of its budget from the feds, according to a report released in May of this year. http://www.governing.com/topics/finance/gov-state-budgets-federal-funding-2015-2018-trump.html

Yet, who screams the loudest to get the federal government out of our lives? Well, that would be the Republicans, who control both Louisiana and Mississippi.

And yet, there they go again, to paraphrase Mr. Reagan. The Republicans in Congress are pushing that same agenda of tax cuts for the rich, cuts to services, increased military spending, heavier tax burdens on the middle class, and economic stagnation for what now, something like the 35th straight year?

And yes, I am keenly aware that some of those years included the administrations of Clinton and Obama and that some of those years Democrats controlled Congress. But that only goes to prove my oft-repeated point that there is little difference in the two parties when Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the NRA, and defense contractors exert such a heavy influence on the national agenda.

But with the Republicans, it’s not so much a political philosophy as it is an obsession, a mindset.

They adhere to the Laffer Curve at all costs. That’s the theory advanced by one Arthur Laffer, who says that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth.

Anyone seen any economic growth around these parts in the last couple of decades or so? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

The Laffer Curve might be appropriately named were it not such a cruel joke.

 

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Earl Long, Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, Bubby Roemer, Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco, Bobby Jindal, John Bel Edwards.

Each of these governors has left his or her mark on Louisiana. Some have been good, some bad, and some, for lack of a better term, indifferent.

Earl Long, for example, gave Louisiana school children hot lunches. His brother Huey gave them free text books.

Davis gave the state a civil service system that, while not perfect, was designed to protect workers from a political spoils system.

But what none has been able to do is to lift the state out of the quagmire that defines Louisiana as one of the worst places to live in terms of quality of life, income, job growth, education, and overall health.

It’ll be left up to the historians to determine if that is the fault of the governor, the legislature, or the general political climate that has been allowed to permeate the system, leaving the state’s citizens with a mass feeling of resignation to the prospect that that’s just the way it is.

If it’s the latter, then we have allowed our state to move into a downward spiral from which becomes increasingly difficult to recover. Only those with the power and resources which, when combined, produce political influence, may prosper in such a climate.

When we become so complacent and inured to low expectations and even lower achievements, only those who are unscrupulous, devious, and manipulative will see a path to riches—to the detriment of those of us who allow it to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be satisfied with the status quo where we keep electing the same political opportunists who belly up to the trough to get first shot at the goodies, leaving the scraps for the rest of us.

Those people never seem to go away and whose fault is that?

I’m beginning to have serious doubts, for example, about the state’s Restore Louisiana program created to help victims of the 2016 floods. How many homeowners have actually been helped so far as opposed to those who find endless obstacles created by bureaucratic red tape—all while employees of the program continue to collect paychecks? How much of that recovery money is being eaten away by salaries of those who are supposed to be helping flood victims?

The governor says the hurricanes that struck Texas and Puerto Rico may slow the recovery process in Louisiana.

Why is that? Hasn’t the money already been appropriated for Louisiana? Why should the recovery process be slowed by those events if the money is already in place to help?

Perhaps it’s all just a part of the overall attitude of our politics as usual which has the state ranked as the third worst state in which to live, according to 24/7 Wall Street, the service which produces some 30 news releases per day on such things as state rankings, college rankings, the economy, and other issues.

LSU football has dropped out of the top 25 rankings. Louisiana has never been in it—except perhaps in the rankings of corruption, graft and ineptitude.

It’s latest ranking, released today, shows that Louisiana 10-year population growth of 6.4 percent is the 13th lowest. Could that be because our unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, according to the service, is third highest in the nation, or that our poverty rate of 19.6 percent (that’s about one of every five people in the state) is also third highest, or that our life expectancy at birth of 75.4 years is the fourth lowest?

What have our leaders done to address these issues?

  • They have fought increasing the minimum wage;
  • They have rejected efforts to ensure that women are paid the same as men for performing the same work;
  • They have robbed our colleges and universities of funding, forcing them to raise tuition which, in turn, is putting a college education out of reach for many;
  • They have decimated our medical teaching universities by giving away our state hospitals;

They have consistently looked the other way as the bad news mounts up but have proved themselves to be most diligent in:

  • Protecting the right to bear semi-automatic weapons;
  • Giving away the state treasury to business and industry in the form of general tax breaks that have to be made up by the rest of us;
  • Enacting tougher and tougher penalties for minor crimes that have produced a state with the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world;
  • Allowing our infrastructure (including more than a billion dollars in maintenance backlogs at our colleges and universities) to crumble beneath us with no solution in sight because of a lack of funding;
  • Protecting young girls by dictating a minimum age for exotic dancers while allowing the state to become a feeding ground for predators calling themselves adoption agencies that in reality, are little more than baby brokers;
  • Enacting legislation for faith-based charter schools and then raising holy hell when one of those applicants turns out to be an Islamic school.

Sure, we can stick out our chests and proclaim that at least we aren’t Mississippi which has the fifth-highest unemployment rate at 5.9 percent, the highest poverty rate (22.0 percent), and the lowest life expectancy at birth (74.5 years).

But in the final analysis, that’s really grabbing at straws.

Arkansas and Alabama rank ahead of Louisiana (fourth and fifth worst states in which to live, respectively).

Arkansas’s poverty rate is fourth-highest at 19.1 percent and its life expectancy at birth is seventh-lowest at 75.8 years.

Alabama has an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent (seventh-highest), a poverty rate of 18.5 percent (fifth-highest), and the second-lowest life expectancy at birth (75.2 percent).

Well, who, you might ask, is lodged between Louisiana and Mississippi for second-worst state in which to live?

That would be West Virginia, with the fourth-highest unemployment rate (6.0 percent), the seventh-highest poverty rate (17.9 percent), and the third-lowest life expectancy at birth (75.4 years).

Do you find it interesting that these same five states are always clustered at the bottom of all the rankings?

Know what else is interesting?

They’re all red states.

Isn’t it time we changed the mentality in Louisiana?

Isn’t it long past the time when we should be breaking out of the pack?

Shouldn’t we be asking really hard questions of our elected officials—from governor all the way down to the courthouse?

And the really soul-searching question:

Shouldn’t we turn off Dancing with the Stars and football and become involved in the recovery of a rotting state?

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By Stephen Winham

Guest Columnist

The 2017-18 budget was enacted in a ball of confusion that allowed an escalation of the blame game.  There was less back-slapping than usual when the latest unnecessary special legislative session ended, but perhaps more back-stabbing.

I heard Gov. Edwards on the radio blaming the legislature for not using recommendations of the latest blue-ribbon committee (Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy) to formulate a plan for resolving the “fiscal cliff” facing us in 2018-19?  I was surprised nobody asked him, “Well, governor, why didn’t you?”

Surely the governor does not believe we have already forgotten that the centerpiece of his tax reform proposal was the previously unheard of and dead on arrival Commercial Activity Tax?  While his proposal did incorporate some of the task force proposals, his brand-new Commercial Activity Tax constituted $832 million of his $1.3 billion proposal.

When Gov. Edwards first talked about the Commercial Activity Tax I thought, “Oh, no, here we go again with another sham like the one Jindal put up in his his one and only stab at tax reform in 2013.”  Then, when Gov. Edwards put his CAT proposal in writing and balanced it with things that made sense, I thought he was proposing something he seriously thought would work.  By the time the CAT was introduced, however, it had already been severely watered down and it was subsequently amended beyond worth before the whole package was withdrawn – In other words, just like Jindal’s ersatz proposal, it never got out of the starting gate – And I came full circle to my original take on it.

Then Representatives Cameron Henry and Lance Harris began the drumbeat we have heard now for many years – “We don’t have a revenue problem.  We have a spending problem.”  That premise was picked up by legislators representing constituencies that believe it to be true (in the absence of a credible contrary argument), and the focus shifted to cuts.  Or did it?

Most of the things everybody considered critical, like full TOPS funding, higher education, and critical needs at corrections seem to have been funded, based on press reports.  State employees were even given a modest pay increase.  Yet no taxes were raised.  Since the Governor proposed an Executive Budget that left $440 million in what he considered priority needs unfunded, how is this possible?  I am still trying to find the answer to that seemingly simple question.

As you already know, state law requires the governor to submit an Executive Budget proposal balanced to the official forecast of revenues.  The legislature is also required to pass a balanced budget.  Although the original appropriations bills are based on the governor’s proposal, the legislature is under no obligation to pass a budget that matches what the governor has proposed.  In fact, there are states where the legislature pretty much ignores the governor’s proposal and starts and ends with its own ideas.  We must never forget that the legislature holds the power to appropriate and enact the budget, not the governor.  Our governor has veto power, including the power to veto line-items, but he does not make the law.  He is responsible for administering the enacted budget in accordance with law.

So, who really is to blame for the abysmal mess in which we find ourselves: the governor, or the legislature?  That’s an easy one – both.

Although the process has become significantly perverted, there should be only one way to balance our state budget on a continuing basis – match projected recurring revenue with projected expenses.  It is possible to do this and to do it in a way that is clearly understood.  At the end of the budget process we deserve a budget we can understand and live with – I am unconvinced we have either.

Governor Edwards did present a balanced budget proposal.  But was it clear and honest in its portrayal of our needs?  The Executive Budget presentation showed a general fund (tax-funded) need of $9.910 billion versus and official revenue forecast of $9.470 billion, leaving a gap of $440 million in unfunded needs.  All constitutional requirements were fully funded.  Here’s how the Governor said he balanced the budget:

  • Carrying forward most of the cuts made in FY 2016-2007 ($120 million)
  • Cutting general fund to the Department of Health ($184 million)
  • Across-the-board cuts in general fund of 2% ($48 million)
  • No funding for inflation
  • Funding TOPS at 70%
  • No funding of deferred maintenance and other infrastructure

If we got additional revenue, the governor proposed restoration of the cuts in hospitals and the across-the-board cuts.  In addition, he recommended full funding of TOPS, pay raises for state employees, technology enhancements, additional funding for prison contracts, match funding for DOTD, a 2.75% increase in the MFP for elementary and secondary schools, and other enhancements.

Fast forward to the budget ultimately enacted last week.  No additional revenue was raised.  TOPS is fully funded.  State employee pay raises are there.  Nobody is publicly claiming devastating cuts have occurred and the governor says he is happy with the budget.  We mullets (as the late C. B. Forgotston called us) are left to scratch our heads over how this is possible.  How is it possible to go from needing $440 million in additional money for a minimally adequate budget to needing ZERO while making most people happy?  What got cut?  How will the cuts affect people and businesses?  Until somebody answers these questions, we mullet mushrooms are left in the dark – and that is apparently where our “leaders” would as soon we stay.

We deserve better – all of us.  None of the following are unrealistic demands.  We need to start making them of our elected officials:

  1. An Executive Budget proposal that the governor truly believes in and is willing to fully defend. If, for example, 100% funding TOPS is not a high enough priority to be included in his base recommendations, then he should stand behind continuing the FY2016-2017 level of 70%.
  2. An Executive Budget proposal and an enacted budget that avoid across-the-board cuts. Across-the-board cuts only make sense if all programs are of equal value.  That is certainly not the case.  Further, after successive years of across-the-board cuts, the result can only be greater mediocrity and ineffectiveness.
  3. An Executive Budget proposal and enacted budget that make clear, concrete cuts anybody can understand with clear explanations of exactly how services are going to be reduced or eliminated.
  4. A progressive tax system that matches recurring revenue with recurring needs after all cuts possible have been made.
  5. Elected officials willing to hold their appointees to the highest standards possible with zero tolerance for the waste and abuses reported almost daily.
  6. Elected officials willing to put partisan politics aside in furtherance of the greater good.

Governor Bobby Jindal portrayed himself on the national stage as a budget-cutter par excellence.  If he was, why did he rely on tricks to “balance” annual budgets and leave Governor Edwards (and us) with a huge budget hole?

Why has Gov. Edwards not yet offered up a balanced budget he is willing to stand behind?  Why has the legislature not enacted a budget that makes sense and is sustainable in the future?  Is it a lack of courage, or is it an unwillingness to face reality?  It must be both, plus the partisanship that has recently made a political game of everything.

The governor and the legislature have competent staffs who have clearly defined our problems for many years.  A series of blue-ribbon panels and well-paid private contractors have studied the problem and recommended solutions for decades.  It is difficult to find evidence either individuals or businesses are overtaxed in Louisiana.  It is very easy to find low rankings of our state on infrastructure and quality of life issues important to both individuals and businesses.

We are mere pawns in the blame game – but we don’t have to be.   Let’s let our elected officials know we will no longer accept being held hostage to an incompetent and unresponsive government.  We want solutions, not the cop-outs and excuses we have been getting for way too many years.

Stephen Winham spent 21 years in the Louisiana State Budget Office, the last 12 as Director. He lives in St. Francisville.

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