The only thing worse than bad news is news that offers false hope. That's what the state House Appropriations Committee offered Louisiana citizens last week. With little debate, the committee overhauled Gov. John Bel Edwards' proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and claimed to have "saved" the beloved TOPS college scholarship program. Problem is, TOPS was spared at the expense of Louisiana's safety-net hospitals, which means the committee's budget plan likely would kill more citizens than it would educate.
On a similar track, the Appropriations Committee carved out a separate budget for state Attorney General Jeff Landry under the guise of giving him more fiscal independence. In reality, it's all part of a political shadow play. Landry, a Republican, already is trying to position himself to run against Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019. The AG should concentrate instead on doing his present job, lest he repeat the mistakes of former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
By week's end, the full House refused to go along with all of the committee's fiscal charade, though it did approve — overwhelmingly — the separate appropriation for Landry's office. On the main budget bill, the House restored some — but not nearly enough — of the hospital cuts. We can only hope the state Senate brings this fairy tale back to reality. Early indications are that it will; a majority of Senate Finance Committee members told LaPolitics publisher Jeremy Alford that they oppose a separate budget for the attorney general. Edwards rightly has vowed to veto it. Senators also are inclined to support TOPS — but not by eviscerating hospitals.
Even the normally measured Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL), a nonpartisan think tank, pulled no punches in critiquing the House committee's plan to fund TOPS at the expense of public hospitals. CABL called it "a faux budget that appears to score some political points in one corner while exacerbating serious problems in another." We agree. The committee's actions are all about partisanship, not public policy. On a larger scale, House Republican leaders seem obsessed with derailing Edwards, even if it means hurting Louisiana's most vulnerable citizens. Shame on them.
CABL, whose board includes conservative business leaders, put it best when it said of the committee's budget plan, "In many ways, it's yet another shell game similar to what we've seen before. Unspecified cuts are made here, a questionable funding scheme is used there ... and the public is somehow led to believe that all is now well with TOPS. ... It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this version of the budget is neither real nor honest." CABL additionally noted, "Much of our problem right now is the result of self-inflicted wounds."
Edwards consistently has told the truth about Louisiana's fiscal dilemma, much of which was created or exacerbated by the previous Republican governor and a GOP-dominated Legislature. His critics now take cheap political shots and grandstand against taxes but offer no honest alternatives — just more false hope.