Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Countdown to... ?

We were counting down to a state government shutdown.  We probably aren't doing that anymore. Even though the legislature failed to fund it, John Bel did decide to sign a budget passed in the most recent session. This means, I think, that the shutdown scenario has.. probably.. been averted.  It looks like the state will have a budget no matter what happens next.  The upcoming Ultimate Special Session will determine how much, if any money gets put back into it.

A lot of attention has been paid to the possibility (should the legislature fail to come up with any new revenue) that Louisiana could become the first state in the union to completely shut down its food stamp program. This would be an astounding turn of events for too many reasons to go into but consider at the very least that it is currently hurricane season.
Without the regular food stamp program, Louisiana also won't qualify for the disaster supplemental assistance program, which provides funding for groceries to people who are recovering from hurricanes, flooding and other disasters.
So something has to be done.  Or does it?  Tim Morris says here that signing the budget gives the Governor an advantage he hasn't had previously.  
For starters, the governor chose to sign the budget lawmakers approved in the second special session, which means the battle over appropriations and who gets what is essentially over. The budget, as rewritten by an Edwards-friendly Senate, guarantees full funding for health care.

That safely walls off a huge pot of money in a state agency that has been routinely assailed by conservative lawmakers as inefficient and bloated. That argument is over for this year.

The Senate also structured the budget bill so that any new money must be added pro rata, meaning proportionally to all areas where a deficit now exists.

That means that lawmakers will not be able to direct the new money to a popular program like TOPS while giving less or nothing to something like food stamps. Everybody gets fully funded or nobody gets fully funded. Some House members are disputing that interpretation, which could end up being the most important fight of the session.
But let's not take even this for granted. If there is any one thing, observers of this year long exercise should have come away with by now it is that this is an exceptionally stubborn Republican caucus. After all, as Gambit (and many others) have pointed out this week, the line in the sand they drew in the last session was over, 17 cents wort of sales tax on any $100 purchase.

More importantly, these Republicans... or at least the key members of their leadership..do not actually care if anybody gets funded at all. Cameron Henry doesn't want to cut Medicaid because he's worried about state finances. He wants to cut Medicaid because he literally doesn't think poor and elderly people should have health care benefits. This needs to be explained more clearly.

The state and local press coverage, for all its very good reporting on the legislative drama, still tends to make outdated assumptions about the political dynamics. I think some writers are starting to catch up but most suffer under the belief that there is a political check on the radicals somewhere in the system. Surely, sooner or later something will shame them into a "compromise."

But no such check exists.  In fact, Henry et al's radical ideology is perfectly aligned with the political and financial infrastructure that comprises their power base. Or, at least, it had better be.
Among other things, (State Senator Danny) Martiny asserted that Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax political action committee financed by the mega-billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, had allegedly threatened to spend $100,000 to oppose any Republican legislator who refused to vote in lockstep with the organization’s political agenda.

“Americans for Prosperity pretty much laid down the gauntlet saying that if you don’t vote the way we like, we’re going to be spending $100,000 against you,” he claimed, “And I’m all for Americans for Prosperity, but they shouldn’t be calling the shots. We need to be voting based on the needs of our constituents, not based on the political needs of Americans for Prosperity.”
But AFP, and the big corporate donors they represent, are the constituents. Here is another Bayou Brief report published in March that takes a look at how Cameron Henry's very healthy machine works. The article concerns itself with how Henry spends the money his PAC raises. But the real big takeaway from all of that is look at all the money he is rolling in by virtue of basically being a monster in politics and the patronage that money can buy for him.  That doesn't come from "voting based on the needs" of people in danger of losing food stamps.  It comes from protecting the privileges of his actual constituents regardless of the cost to anyone else.

Henry, and the Republican caucus he leads and funds, have no real reason to care if anything in the state budget is funded as long as it means their backers don't have to pay for it. And when you don't actually care if anything is funded, then "everybody gets funded or nobody gets funded," probably isn't going to give the Governor much leverage after all. No matter what happens, we can rest assured, they're going to find a way to blame him anyway.

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