I’ve seen this play before. It does not end well. Yet, for some reason, Republican state lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards are poised to repeat the mistakes of the past. If that happens, there’s little hope that our state’s worst-ever fiscal crisis will lead to long-range tax and budget reforms. That’s too bad. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
It’s not that major political players and respected fiscal experts haven’t offered specific long-range solutions. They have, in droves. And it’s not that the Democratic governor and the Republican caucus haven’t been talking about working together.
The problem, as is almost always the case, is that when it’s actually time to work together, things break down quickly along partisan lines, with both sides retreating to their silos to lob talking points at one another.
There’s still time — barely — to get it right. And, to be fair, both sides are equally right and wrong here.
For example, the Republicans are correct when they say taxes alone, or taxes with only limited areas open to cuts, are not the answer. They were equally correct when they asked the governor to broaden the call for the special session that begins Feb. 14 (some Valentine’s Day gift, eh?) so that a wide spectrum of long-term budget reforms could be considered.
On the other hand, too many in the GOP-controlled House — along with Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy (who’s running for the U.S. Senate) — are dead wrong when they say no tax increases are necessary. They may as well howl at the moon. What Louisiana needs is tax and budget reform, not grandstanding.
Every independent study has concluded that cuts alone won’t fix what’s broken. Let’s also remember this undeniable truth: For the past eight years we had a Republican governor, and for the past four years we’ve had a GOP-controlled Legislature — and together they drove Louisiana into this ditch. The Republicans own this mess. They have a responsibility to help fix it.
Edwards, for his part, is correct when he says we need to raise revenue and spread the burden as widely as possible. “There are no ‘easy’ solutions left,” he wrote in a statewide op-ed this week.
But the governor also has made some mistakes, mostly in how he has handled his politics (starting with the House Speaker’s race). His top-down approach to this crisis is wrongheaded. As Jeremy Alford noted in LaPolitics Weekly, “what’s missing from Team Edwards is a political director … to direct traffic and figure out why the administration is being rolled in the House.”
Edwards served eight years in the House, so he too owns this mess. Moreover, the House political landscape is totally different today. He needs to build new relationships — and repair some old ones.
Time is short. The stakes are high. This is no time for partisanship and grandstanding. Hopefully, better minds will lead the herd. If not, as bad as things are now, they will get worse.