Louisiana's current-year budget gap is back, forcing larger cuts than lawmakers thought would be necessary when they ended a special session a week ago.It's "around $70 million" meaning we don't actually know how deep the deficit is. If you see it in the road, you are advised not to try and drive through it. Unfortunately the governor has little choice but to plow right right on in.
Legislators thought they were about $30 million short of closing a $950 million deficit in the budget cycle that ends June 30. But information released Wednesday (March 16) shows the deficit is more than double that number, around $70 million.
Last-minute changes to tax bills and the lawmakers' failure to pass at least one piece of legislation caused the gap to widen. Gov. John Bel Edwards also vetoed at least $4.4 million worth of cuts that the Legislature had counted on.
While Edwards was hoping to raise taxes enough to avoid more midyear cuts to higher education and health care services, the current hole will make that unlikely. The governor's budget chief Jay Dardenne said additional reductions to public universities and health services will probably be unavoidable.So we're looking at somewhere around $70 million in cuts mostly to health care and higher ed which, thanks to the stubbornness of the Republicans in the house, the governor will have to make himself. At the conclusion of the special session, Edwards delivered an especially cranky press conference about this. It's not hard to see why.
"Unfortunately, there were some members of the Legislature who blocked our progress and refused to offer any alternatives to my plan," Edwards said in a written statement released Wednesday. "Refusing to vote for solutions of any kind is not 'tackling the deficit.'"
The Legislature has given Edwards the final say over where the additional cuts are made over the next three months. Dardenne said he hopes to release a list of the new reductions Monday.
In this week's Gambit we were treated to an historic edition of Clancy DuBos's habitual "Winnahzzz and Da Looozahz and Da Vics N Da Natlys and Yer Mom en' ems and Such" legislative scorecard. It turns out (and this is a rather stunning fact if you really sit and think about it) for the first time ever, all involved were deemed among Da Loooozaaahzzzzz.
Clancy is wrong about some of this. LABI, for instance, is really more of a winner in that it successfully defended a large portion of its members tax privileges even under heavy pressure to "share the burden." In fact, they were so successful that they defied even the imperative to balance the budget in order to get their way. John Kennedy is probably a "winner" as well since he doesn't care about anything other than getting attention for his Senate candidacy. Mission accomplished there. Similar can be said of the House Republicans who took the opportunity to assert their political independence regardless of the consequences.
In fact there may not be any consequences for them. Politically speaking, the forthcoming list of cuts will "belong" more to the governor than to the legislature. Accomplishing that was more important to the House leadership during the special session than resolving the shortfall. Here's why. A UNO opinion survey released this week shows that voters tend to blame the crisis on the legislature (and former governor Jindal) rather than on the new governor.
That's natural for a newly elected governor still on his ostensible honeymoon with voters. It's also just as natural for the opposition party to focus on knocking him down a peg as quickly as possible. Taylor Barras and friends are hoping that when Edwards announces the next round of cuts this week, they will have moved the needle against him a bit. And having gotten this task out of the way, they can afford to be more reasonable during the next special session.
BATON ROUGE — Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras said Tuesday he believes more taxes will be needed during an inevitable second special session to address the state's gaping budget hole, but he was less specific about targets for new revenue he would support.Barras could have made this admission much earlier and saved us all a lot of headaches. But that would have been beside the point. Quite the contrary, the objective this first time out was to create headaches for the governor. By this measure, can we not say the Republicans have snatched a small victory from the jaws of Looozahhness? Maybe we should ask Clancy to reconsider.
"Another $800 million in cuts seems a little steep for me," Barras, R-New Iberia, told Gannett Louisiana, referring to the estimated shortfall for next year.