Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where is the leadership?

From the left and the right, there is a call going out in Baton Rouge: Where is the leadership? Lack of that most important character trait is dragging this legislative session to a most unsatisfactory close.

In this BayouBuzzcolumn, Louisiana Weekly editor Christopher Tidmore focuses on a couple of issues, including the bogus claim that little can be done about Louisiana’s budget woes because so much of the budget is off limits: “We continue to hear Bobby Jindal, the leges and the media opinion writers declare that the state constitution forces cuts to higher education and health care whenever there is a shortage of revenues because all the rest of the money is dedicated.”

That, Tidmore points out, is nonsense. “Of the $30 billion in the current state budget,” he writes, “$3.9 billion, or 13%, is constitutionally protected…the remainder of the budget, 87%, is NOT constitutionally protected. Only statutes, simple laws, prevent access to these areas.”

It is convenient to blame protected funds like public education’s Minimum Foundation Program for our leaders’ inability to adequately fund higher education and health care. But it is dishonest. As Tidmore puts it, “Willful ignorance has led to a quarter of billion dollar sledgehammer to our colleges and hospital care for the poor.”

Strong and honest leadership would scour the budget, but that would mean taking a hard look at pet projects and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on private contractors. Nobody seems to have the hueves to take that step.

Then there is an Advocate editorial critical of state “leaders” for their slavish obedience to anti-tax ideology. It’s an allegiance that frames even a reasonable and necessary levy like the tobacco tax as a rape of the Constitution and a dagger in the heart of freedom-loving citizens everywhere.

As Advocate’s editorial writer put it,

Jindal’s opposition is astonishing, given his background in health policy.
Raising taxes on tobacco is a way to deter its use and avoid the heavy treatment
costs of cancer and other smoking-caused diseases.
Still, remember 2012. That fiscal year will begin on July 1, 2011. This Legislature will have to face shortfalls of an estimated $1 billion or more that year, after significant cuts will be made this year to health care and higher education.
Members might be more reasonable when they’re up against that wall.

Even Dan Juneau of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is getting in on the leadership act. In this column, he takes note of the gut-fight between the Senate and House over tax and spending issues, and faults Jindal for not taking command of the situation.

Writes Juneau, “Fiscal disputes such as the current one are somewhat rare. Why? Because the Legislature usually follows the governor's lead on budget matters…The outcome could be resolved fairly quickly if Governor Jindal sold the public on exactly what he thinks the solution to the problem should be–and why.”

As four former Louisiana governors recently put it: “Lead governor, we are prepared to follow.”

No comments: