Political analysts dissect Legislature’s moves to cover Louisiana’s budget shortfall

Despite the rhetoric that Louisiana’s two special legislative sessions this year were failures because a budget shortfall still exists, Gov. John Bel Edwards actually got most of what he wanted accomplished, the policy director of the Public Affairs Research Council said today.

At the Leaders With Vision 22nd Reality Check luncheon, held annually after the Legislature adjourns, Steven Procopio told the roughly 40 attendees that the Edwards administration was pretty successful in what it wanted to do. Looking at the big picture, he said, the two special sessions and regular session did generate $1.5 billion of the $1.8 billion needed to cover the shortfall since Edwards took office.

“He got about 80% of what he wanted,” Procopio said, referring to the percentage of the revenue raised versus what was needed to cover the shortfall.

“That’s pretty successful,” he added. “I wish I could get my kids to do 80% of what I wanted them to do. And you can make an argument whether your kids are tougher to work with than the Legislature.”

The second special session ended late Thursday with the Legislature raising roughly $263 million of the $600 million Edwards wanted to raise for the 2016-17 budget.

Procopio noted, however, that most of the new revenue measures will end in 2018 and leave the state—if nothing is done to correct the problems between now and then—with between a $1 billion and $2 billion shortfall.

Albert Samuels, head of the criminal justice and political science department at Southern University, said Edwards found out working with his former colleagues in the Legislature was much harder than he anticipated—so much so that Edwards became the first Louisiana governor in about 100 years to have his choice for House Speaker defeated.

The resulting partisanship, Samuels says, may have led to the Legislature’s inability to fully close the budget shortfall in the second special session. One casualty of that gridlock is that after years of cutting higher education spending, the Legislature slashed TOPS by 30%—leaving it fully funded at 100% in the fall, but only 40% in the spring.

“Apparently, the Legislature is hoping Santa Claus will include the other 60% in his sleigh so they won’t have to come back and raise revenue,” Samuels said.

Journalist and blogger Lamar White Jr. echoed Samuels’ comments that the session would have been more productive if Edwards would have been allowed to choose the speaker.

“The hyperpartisanship, particularly among the Republicans in this state, is crippling our ability to get stuff done,” White said.

White was also critical of a sales tax being used as the biggest tool to cover part of the shortfall, calling it a regressive tax but admitting it was the only way to raise the revenue needed in the short-term. If lawmakers don’t come up with a long-term fix, White said, then the state will be in the same predicament next year.

“This is still Jindal economics, using accounting gimmicks and one-time money to plug a budget shortfall. It’s not sustainable,” White said, referring to former Gov. Bobby Jindal. White added today marks one year to the day that Jindal announced his run for president.

Jeff Crouere, a political analyst and host of Ringside Politics on WGSO-AM in New Orleans, slammed Jindal for leaving the state in a financial quagmire and called Jindal the “most self-serving politician I’ve ever seen.”

“He spent his entire time as governor running for president,” Crouere said. “He didn’t care a wit about Louisiana problems. He didn’t care at all. He just wanted the position, and he just wanted the stepping stone to run for president.”

—Ryan Broussard

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