Edwards has not expanded Louisiana’s government, Dardenne says

One day after Gov. John Bel Edwards met with business leaders to brainstorm ways to address the state’s $1 billion looming fiscal crisis, his top budget official, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, urged a group of local business people to become better informed about the state’s budget situation and more engaged with state lawmakers.

In a speech to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, Dardenne gave a concise crash course on the factors affecting the state’s current fiscal crisis, and he tried to dispel the notion—frequently disseminated by critics of the governor—that the size of state government has grown under the current administration.

“This governor has not grown state government,” Dardenne said, noting that the 2018 state general fund budget is $9.4 billion, about $1 billion less than it was a decade ago.

Dardenne explained that the growth in spending often pointed to by business and anti-tax groups has come from the federal side of the state budget. Federal dollars account for an increasingly large part of the state budget—40% today compared to 23% in 1982.

He went on to explain that only state general fund dollars are available to spend, and of that amount nearly half—$5.1 billion of $9.4 billion—is discretionary. The rest is dedicated to K-12 education, paying off state debt and local governments.

Dardenne also tackled the state’s tax structure and pointed out to his pro-business audience that corporate income tax collections have shrunk dramatically in recent years because 80% of C corporations in the state pay no state income tax.

“I’m not saying exemptions are all bad,” said Dardenne, a Republican, who was known as a fiscal conservative during his years in the state senate. “But there is something wrong with a tax system that says we are going to exempt more than we collect.”

More than once, Dardenne blasted the state House of Representatives for failure to address the fiscal crisis during the recent legislative session. He said it’s particularly disappointing that the recommendations of the HCR 11 Task Force, which was created by the Legislature in 2015 and spent more than a year analyzing the state’s fiscal situation and coming up with a series of fiscal reforms, was flatly ignored.

Dardenne said options are few and citizens need to understand what’s really going on and what’s at stake.

“It is very frustrating,” Dardenne said. “But the reality is we have to talk about the reality.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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