Gov. John Bel Edwards' menu of possible solutions to Louisiana's fiscal mess contained no big surprises. His options were few and widely analyzed before he unveiled his proposals (which include some $480 million in cuts) last week.
So why are some Republicans acting as though Edwards' proposals came out of left field? Even staunchly pro-business groups like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) and the Committee of 100 for Economic Development (C100) had said for months that cuts alone could not erase former Gov. Bobby Jindal's legacy of red ink.
In the current fiscal year alone, the Jindal deficit is $750 million and mounting. Not long after Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne announced that deficit figure, we learned that Jindal's administration approved at least $19 million more in pay raises — and that was just in four of nearly 80 departments. Now there's a surprise.
Who knows what other fiscal land mines Jindal left in his wake? If nothing else, that should make it crystal clear, even to Jindal's few remaining supporters, that he really doesn't give a damn about Louisiana. No surprise there.
Meanwhile, the projected deficit for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is $1.9 billion and growing. Moreover, that $1.9 billion figure assumes Edwards and lawmakers cover the current $750 million gap, which makes the total budget hole more than $2.6 billion between now and June 30, 2017.
Given the enormity of the problem, why are some people apoplectic about Edwards suggesting tax increases? Have they forgotten how voters reacted to Jindal's draconian cuts to higher education, highways and health care?
Lest anyone forget, the tax increases proposed by Edwards basically would restore Louisiana's tax base to what it was when Jindal took office — except that Edwards also proposes lowering some tax rates in order to broaden the revenue base. Translation: Those who have been paying too little will henceforth start paying their fair share.
Every serious proponent of fiscal reform has talked about eliminating, reducing or phasing out many exemptions, deductions and exclusions in sales taxes, personal income taxes and corporate income and franchise taxes — and reducing rates to make Louisiana more attractive to businesses and industries. That's one of the cornerstones of Edwards' long-term proposals.
Let's also not lose sight of the fact that he likewise wants to be able to spread cuts beyond higher education and health care — by eliminating or reducing statutory budget dedications. That, too, is a cornerstone of fiscal reform.
What makes me wonder what some people are smoking is opposition to raising Louisiana's comparatively low cigarette tax. It's one tax hike that voters support.
To be clear, none of this stuff is pleasant. But to feign surprise is to imitate the oppressor: Jindal.
It will be interesting to see what cuts Republicans propose beyond those Edwards already has suggested. It will be even more interesting if they suggest cutting universities, hospitals and highways in their own districts.