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Thursday, January 14th, 2016
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
UPHILL BATTLES FOR LOUISIANA’S NEW GOVERNOR!
Louisiana’s newly elected governor began his inaugural day on a high note with religious services at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge. But before he could even begin his inaugural address, things got dicey. The Louisiana House of Representatives rejected his hand picked candidate for Speaker. Is this an indication of how his term as the state’s chief executive will succeed?
Governor John Bel Edwards was the first governor in my memory to announce his choice to be speaker. Yes, most previous governors had their personal choices. But they quietly worked behind the scenes to build a consensus for their candidate. When Bobby Jindal first took office, he met with each house member and asked whom he or she wanted for the post. It was a “see which way the wind is blowing” approach.
When Edwin Edwards was elected governor back in 1972, Representative Bubba Henry was not his choice. Henry had supported Edwards’s opponent, Bennett Johnston, and Edwards was not keen on working for the election of Henry as speaker. But the Jonesboro representative was popular with his housemates. So Edwards flew to Henry’s home in Jonesboro, and the two held a meeting at the local airport to hash out their differences. Henry agreed to cooperate in supporting Edward’s ambitious agenda, and the two worked well together during the following eight years. In fact, Edwards supported Henry’s efforts to be elected chairman of the 1973 constitutional convention.
Since a majority of Republicans make up the present House of Representatives, current Governor Edwards publicly climbed far out on a limb to support Democrat Walt Leger and suffered his first defeat. Many capitol observers felt he should have seen the writing on the wall.
Edwards also stirred up a firestorm among pro-life advocates with his choice of Dr. Rebekah Gee as the new secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services. The Louisiana Right to Life Federation strongly criticized the appointment saying, “Louisiana Right to Life’s research reveals that the newly named Secretary has a long history of troubling connections with organizations that advocate for abortion-on-demand.” They vowed to fight her confirmation that is required by the state senate.
The new governor’s challenge is to not get overly involved in too many side controversies and stay focused on the elephant in the room. What to do about the huge and growing deficit, how to balance next year’s budget, and how to keep the current ship of state afloat.
The current legislature has little appetite for new taxes. Former Governor Jindal has pounded the anti-tax message so hard that many lawmakers are quivering over the thought of having to make such a vote. “It just ain’t going to happen,” one senior lawmaker observed on inauguration day. So what can be cut and where to begin?
How about begin at the beginning? We keep hearing that more than half the current budget is constitutionally protected and untouchable. But when the current constitution was adopted in 1973, there were no dedications. This provision was written in the constitution by former Governor Buddy Roemer and yours truly. The idea was to let the legislature set spending priorities depending on current needs.
But little by little, one special interest group after another lobbied to give their pet interests constitutional protection. There are $12 billion dollars of protected funds. Legislators should consider putting it right back on the voters. If the state is in such a crisis, maybe it’s time to undedicate this money and reexamine just how all state dollars are being spent. Why allow favorites as the state is doing now? It would take a new constitutional amendment, so let the voters decide.
There are a number of ways to balance the budget. There has never been a “performance audit” of every state agency to see how well current state dollars are being spent. Are taxpayers getting the best bang for the buck? Let’s find out.
There are other financial suggestions that ought to be contemplated by the new governor and legislature, all that are fodder for future columns. Plugging the leaking financial dyke with new taxes is a cop out. Begin by going back to square one, prioritize current financial income, and make the best use of what revenue is currently available. It makes common sense to most taxpayers. Let’s see if the new governor and legislature get the message.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. Â You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.Â You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com