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Carlson: State budget de ja vu

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A state news headline from last week:  “$700 million deficit:  Louisiana budget woes stretch years into future.”

This is an election year, and in three short weeks political office hopefuls will be qualifying for office (September 8 – 10).  So voters and taxpayers may want to spend those three weeks drafting a list of questions for legislative candidates as it concerns a chief duty of lawmakers:  to provide for a revenue and spending plan that does not leave the state with woes that stretch years into the future.

For the record, that job hasn’t been accomplished for years.  And we continue to send back to Baton Rouge elected representatives to do precisely that job.

For the foreseeable future, the state Revenue Estimating Conference forecast budget gaps of $713 million for fiscal year 2017; $715 million for 2018; and $1.3 billion in 2019.  The 2019 budget shortfall will be the result of last spring’s legislative session that included reductions in tax credits and exemptions some of which will sunset in three years.

Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, is reported to reflect on the session saying, “It wasn’t pretty, but the bottom line is we accomplished what we needed to.”

Really.

Déjà vu all over again.

Our lawmakers are masters at kicking the can down the road and calling it good.

Consider this thought shared by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, with The Daily Reville in February 2015, “We knew last year when we passed the state budget that was going to lead us into a billion dollar shortfall.  That was not a responsible thing to do … We saw this coming and did nothing.”

Geymann, a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, was lamenting the legislature’s and governor’s 2014 budget antics that set the state up for the most recent annual budget drama.

Interested voters will want to read the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) 2015 Legislative Session Wrap-up, for a comprehensive review of state leadership’s most recent budget work.

PAR’s review observes, “The Legislature’s focus this session was on finding money to pay the bills for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1.  Spending cuts and long-term solutions were not a priority.  The state’s most persistent problems were passed to the next governor and members of the legislature who will be elected this fall and then must get straight to work in January 2016 to deal with the next crisis.”

According to the Revenue Estimating Conference, the next crisis is just a few months away as planning for the 2017 budget gets underway.

Déjà vu all over again.

Folks who are looking for a place to start in evaluating their current lawmakers and new candidates as it concerns Louisiana’s budget condition can go online to PAR’s website (parlouisiana.org) for a copy of the review.  It is well worth the read.

And it’s worth the time to start asking hard questions of those who have served in the Legislature to justify what makes them worthy of another four years – along with testing the knowledge of new candidates who would like to serve.

At some point in time we have to take a break from blaming lawmakers and the governor for the state’s budget disasters – and instead look closer to home with the question of why we keep sending them back to Baton Rouge.

Otherwise, we — the voters — are big contributors to the déjà vu all over again scenario.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at martycarlson1218@gmail.com