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October 22nd, 2015

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 In the numerous gubernatorial debates that have taken place over the past year, candidates have been asked time and time again what they will do about the massive state debt that continues to grow. How will they fill the financial hole that some say will approach two billion dollars in the coming year?

The answers put forth by all the candidates are generally the same. First, no new taxes because we have a spending problem. Second, call a special session of the legislature the day they take office. The same clichés over and over again. No specifics. We skeptics keep asking, “Where’s the beef?” The pat answer of “just trust us “˜cause we can work this out,” has gone stale. Voters have been hearing the same banalities year after year.

There have been a number of stopgap solutions suggested to stop the fiscal dike from overflowing in mounting debt. Cap the movie tax credits, eliminate the homestead exemption, put a cap on the educational TOPS program, curtail the industrial tax exemptions, eliminate the state sales tax holidays, get rid of the numerous special tax breaks that seem to be widespread for everyone but you and me, wipe out the numerous annual grants to non-profits; the list goes on and on.

The proposals right now seem to be heading towards a special session of the legislature reviewing item by item what funding should be cut or eliminated. Can you imagine the herd of lobbyists camping out at the state capitol pleading for their special funding or exemption to be left alone?

Here’s a novel idea. Why not just go back to square one? The legislature, without any direction from the new governor, could go into a special session, either with the governor’s support or on their own, and re-build a financial plan for taxing and spending from scratch. Why have a knock-down, drag-out fight over what funding to cut or what exemption to preserve? Just let the legislature do its job with a clean slate and no “locked in” spending requirements.

Back in 1973, I was an elected delegate to the constitutional convention. I was co-chairman, along with former governor Buddy Roemer, of the revenue and finance committee of the convention. After months of discussion, we directed that the legislature assume the constitutional responsibility of determining year in and year out just how state funds were to be spent. No special exemptions. No advantages or money protection for any one group.

Article 7 (Revenue and Finance) of the new constitution specifically spelled out that spending priorities were to be determined by the legislature. But little by little, the legislature bowed to the whims of special interest groups and allowed constitutional amendments that limited the legislature’s ability to prioritize spending. The state was in better financial shape when voters passed these amendments, and no one had the foresight to see the financial crisis that would happen in years to come.

As political watchdog C. B. Forgotston has suggested, the legislature could come into a special session on day one of taking office, and deal just with Article 7 of the constitution. Eliminate all dedicated funding for any special interest. Remember, that’s how it was in 1973. It would take just one constitutional amendment to be considered by the voters next year.

One of the most prosperous times in Louisiana’s history was just after our present constitution was adopted and before it was weighted down was so many special interest dedications. In 1974, and in the early years following, it was a flourishing time for the state economically. Yes, energy was an important economic factor. But the new constitution played a significant role in the state’s growing economy.

If a new Article 7 was adopted, then the legislature would have fresh authority to set priorities for the state’s future. If such an amendment would fail, then a majority of voters would have made the decision that Louisiana will continue to fester at the bottom. It will take a courageous legislature, a committed new governor, and a voting public that is tired of the status quo. But the clock is running.


It is a popular delusion that the government wastes vast amounts of money through inefficiency and sloth. Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money.”

“• P.J. O’Rourke

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.


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