Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bad choices land Louisiana in a crisis

As LFT President Steve Monaghan pointed out at the Black Monday press conference, much of Louisiana's current fiscal crisis is a result of choices made by our leaders over the past several years.

Billions of dollars worth of tax cuts were granted while the price of oil kept rising. Lawmakers undid the Stelly reforms which, for the first time, had freed us from dependency on the petroleum market.

Then came the double whammy. The national recession hurt us, but the damage was compounded by the collapse of oil. Just as in the 1980's (have we learned nothing?), we were left with gaping budget holes and dwindling revenue streams to fill them.

And things aren't getting any better in Baton Rouge: true tales from the legislature

Example one: On Monday, a bill that would tie the state gasoline tax to the inflation rate was aborted with the help of the Jindal administration. The bill, sponsored by Republican Hollis Downs of Ruston, was a good-faith effort to chip away at our $14 billion backlog of road and bridge repairs.

According to this article by Advocate reporter Marsha Shuler, Jindal advisor Chris Gillot brought the governor's anti-tax message to the committee. When asked just what plans the administration has to deal with road construction, Gillot admitted that there is no plan.

Downs voluntarily deferred his bill, so that it may be resurrected later in the session. As a parting shot at Jindal's ideological dogmatism, Downs said, “I call on leadership to step forward and be leaders, not just philosophers.”

Example two: The governor led the charge against Rep. Karen Carter-Peterson's (D-New Orleans) failed effort to raise the cigarette tax. The two-fold benefit of the tax: it would have reduced smoking and it would have enabled the state to gain hundreds of millions of federal health-care dollars (remember that health care is one of the areas slated to be slashed by the governor's budget).

As blogger Stephen Sabludowski reports here, that led another Republican, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Hunter Greene of Baton Rouge, to blast the governor for once again valuing ideology over reality. Greene's request for suggestions about how to curb the state's smoking habit was answered with the simple statement that the governor opposes taxes.

Capitol insiders mostly agree that the governor's presidential aspirations motivate his insistence on tax cuts. For a critical segment of his political party, tax cuts are a litmus test. But for a state floundering on the brink of disaster, leadership requires thinking beyond the narrow interests of the political base. As Rep. Downs put it, the governor needs to exercise leadership that transcends political philosophy

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