Carlson: February special session not promising

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With the new year comes an inauguration and a gala ball next week, followed by the prospect of more contention in the political arena next month with a special legislative session planned to address serious state budget issues.

And, a December 31 Gannett Louisiana news story sets out a stark contrast that’s plagued Louisiana’s budget situation for the last six years. Jay Dardenne, who will serve as Governor-elect John Bel Edwards’ commissioner of administration, described the state’s fiscal condition as “shocking” and “dire.”

According to the Gannett story, “Dardenne said the new administration’s analysis shows up to a $750 million deficit in the current budget with six months to go and a projected $1.9 billion budget hole for the fiscal year 2016-17.”

Marty Carlson
Marty Carlson

The same news story quotes departing Governor Bobby Jindal denying the new administration’s budget concerns, saying: “The state budget is balanced, like it has been every year for eight years in a row.” To suggest that there’s a good bit of daylight between those statements would be something of an understatement.

So given the breathtaking conflict in those two state budget scenarios, Louisiana citizens have little reason for confidence in lawmakers or gubernatorial leadership. Although Jindal is probably right about the first year or two of his administration’s budget situation, he also came into office with the $1 billion surplus left by his predecessor. But since that grace period, Jindal’s mid-year budget shortages became the expectation rather than the unanticipated shortfall. And in 2015, there sure appeared to be more smoke and mirrors fixes to that shortfall than strategic measures to correct enduring structural issues in state fiscal planning.

Dardenne said that Jindal’s “often criticized budget maneuvers … masked the state’s structural budget problems. “We commit to you to end this era of gimmicks and trickery.” An old saying comes to mind: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As a Louisiana citizen, I look forward to manifestation of the Dardenne commitment. Unfortunately, and as we’re all well aware, that same budget policy and planning road is traveled by a whole slew of state lawmakers whose personal political agendas quite often are not in line with that of the Governor’s office.

No one will be surprised when unnecessary politics hauls out the party differences between our Democrat governor and a largely Republican legislature, but all were elected to do the right thing for Louisiana. And doing the right thing means putting party affiliation aside to get the job done.

Lawmakers and the Governor’s office must work together, sans smoke and mirrors, to clearly articulate for Louisiana citizens the state’s fiscal position, and the possible remedies and limitations. Unvarnished veracity in assessment of the situation, and

honesty in effecting solutions are the only acceptable actions we should expect from Baton Rouge in the February special session. Realistically, however, one suspects there are no bets such a circumstance will occur – next month or any time in the foreseeable future.

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