(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)
“That clanking sound you heard,” says blogger C. B. Forgotston, “was Louisiana’s proverbial fiscal can hitting the end of the road.” And he has been around state government long enough to know the signs.
“Like a kid behaving badly, we’ve been placed on probation,” added State Treasurer John Kennedy.
Both men’s assessments were in response to the double whammy of two investor rating services’—Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s—action to move Louisiana’s credit outlook from stable to negative on Friday and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.
“This should be a wake-up call that we need to stop spending more than we take in,” Kennedy said. “We’ve drained our trust funds, we’ve relied on nonrecurring money and we’ve had to cut the budget in the middle of the fiscal year for too many years now. Many have been warning that this day would arrive, and it has.”
The dual action by the two ratings services impacts $2.7 billion in outstanding general obligation debt and $1.25 billion in related debt.
Moody’s warned that continued structural imbalances, steep growth in pension costs, deterioration in financial liquidity and failure to contain costs in the state’s Medicaid system will result in a credit rating downgrade, making it more costly for the state to borrow money.
S & P added a warning that “Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating” even further.
Gov. Bobby immediately attempted to put a positive spin on the bad news (or as Forgotston described it, tried to pour perfume on the manure pile to change the smell but not the content) by saying that the agencies didn’t lower the ratings on the existing outstanding General Obligation bonds.
But what Gov. Bobby did not say, according to Forgotston, was that the rating on those bonds was not lowered because the Louisiana State Constitution gives those bonds first call, even before employee retirement benefits, on all the money in the state treasury. “In other words, if the state goes bankrupt, those bonds will be paid,” he said, adding that future state borrowing will also cost more.
It could also mean that in the event of default, retirees won’t be getting their pension checks, something that should get the gray panthers up in arms.
At this point, we feel it important to point out—just in case anyone still needs reminding—that Gov. Bobby has been traveling all over the country (well, mainly to Iowa and Washington, D.C.) spewing his rhetoric about how he has cut the number of state employees, how Louisiana’s economy is out-performing other states, how new industry is locating to Louisiana, and how little it costs to attend LSU.
Except it’s all part of his big lie—except, of course, the part about hauling state workers out to the curb.
But if he is so hell-bent on claiming and then taking credit for all these wonderful events and trends (of course he never mentions the state’s high poverty rate, poor health care availability, our second lowest median household income, the eighth lowest percentage of citizens with a bachelor’s degree or higher, or our fifth highest violent crime rate), then he must shoulder the blame for the bad news as well.
Any coach will tell you that’s the way the game is played; if you take credit for the wins, you have to take the blame for the losses.
And of course, he never, never does that. Everything out of his mouth is about all the great accomplishments of his administration, and always spouted off in such rapid-fire fashion as to give little chance for argument from dissenters. It’s his style to overwhelm with statistics quoted by rote in his boring staccato delivery.
Well, Bobby, your rhetoric—and for that matter, you as well—are wearing a little thin.
The doubt began creeping in here in Louisiana midway of your first term and has continued to build until now the national media have caught on. Only last week, three or four national stories revealed the pitiful shape you are leaving our state in for your unfortunate successor to attempt to clean up.
Unfortunately, whoever follows you will most likely be a one-term governor because no one can clean up your mess in a single term and the voters are likely to grow weary of whoever is unfortunate enough to follow you and turn him or her out of office after four years in a desperate attempt to find a quick solution that in reality may take decades. You have set this state back that far (Thank you, Gov. Mike Foster for inflicting this plague upon us).
And, Gov. Bobby, you can just mothball your national political ambitions. Being President is a far distant fantasy by now and any prospects of a cabinet position are just as surely disappearing like so much sand through your fingers. You can now only accept that you will go down as one of, if not the most vilified governor in the history of this state. You have succeeded, by comparison, in making Earl Long appear to have been in full control of his mental faculties back in 1959.
And lest anyone think we are giving the legislature a free pass on this situation, think again. With only a handful of exceptions, those of you in the House and Senate have been complicit in this charade of governance. You have aided and abetted this pitiful excuse of a chief executive who, while pandering repeatedly that he had the job he wanted, nevertheless plunged full speed ahead toward his fool’s errand of seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Why, his own family was talking openly of his becoming President—at his first inauguration way back in 2008!
Moody’s and S &P were each quite thorough in laying out the reasoning for their simultaneous actions on Friday.
Moody’s said its action reflects a $1.6 billion structural deficit, continued budget gaps, the state’s large Medicaid caseload, job growth below the national average and significant unfunded pension liabilities. “The negative outlook reflects the state’s growing structural budget imbalance, projected at $1.6 billion for fiscal 2016, or about 18% of the $8.7 billion general fund even after significant budget cuts of recent years,” Moody’s said. “The state has options for reducing the imbalance, including scaling back various tax credit programs, but the overall scale of balancing measures needed may further deplete resources and reduce the state’s liquidity, which has been one of its strengths.”
S & P was no kinder, citing Gov. Bobby’s reliance on non-recurring revenue which it said only served to increase future budgetary pressures. “In our view, the state’s focus on structural solutions to its general fund budget challenges will be a key determinant of its future credit stability.
“We could consider revising the outlook back to stable if revenue trends stabilize and if Louisiana makes material progress in aligning its recurring revenues and expenditures on a timely basis with a focus on recurring solutions. Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating,” S & P said.
Forgotston, in his own unique way, tells us what Moody’s and S & P were really telling us: “Bobby, you and the legislators have made a big ‘number-two’ mess in your fiscal pants and we have no faith in your ability to clean it up. Folks, don’t let the legislators try to fool you; this is very bad news for us taxpayers and the legislators are the reason for it.”
Yes, it’s easy to blame Gov. Bobby because he has in his seven years initiated every Ponzi scheme one could imagine from giving away something like $11 billion in tax incentives (according to one recent story), to giving away the state’s charity hospitals, to robbing the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, to attempting to rob the state’s retirement system, to refusing federal grants for needed projects, to rejecting Medicaid expansion and thus depriving the state’s indigent population access to decent health care which in turn led directly to the announced closure of the emergency room of a major Baton Rouge hospital. The list goes on.
But, as Gov. Bobby is so fond of saying, at the end of the day, it was the legislature, through the “leadership” of Senate President John Alario, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin that allowed him to do it by refusing to grow a collective set and stand up to this vindictive little amateur dictator.
This is an election year and Louisiana voters—particularly state employees, former state employees who have lost their jobs because of Gov. Bobby, teachers, retirees and the state’s working poor would do well to remember what this governor has done to them and which legislators voted to support the administration’s carnage inflicted upon this state.
There are those few in the House and Senate who have spoken up and tried to be the voices of reason but those voices have been drowned out by Gov. Bobby’s spinmeisters.
So when you vote for governor next fall, you would do well to ignore the TV commercials bought by those who want only to continue down this same path of economic destruction and growing income disparity and consider who you believe really has the best interest of the state, and not the special interests, at heart. In other words, think for yourselves instead of letting some ad agency do your thinking for you.
If you don’t get your collective heads out of the sand and in the most emphatic manner you can muster, tell your neighbors, your friends, your family, the clerk at the store where you shop for food and clothing, the cashier at the restaurant where you eat what this governor and this legislature have done to you and to them, then come next fall, you have no one to blame but yourselves.
The time for joking about Gov. Bobby is over. We’re at the end game now.