Edwards makes case for more taxes
Whether he intended to do it is debatable, but the budget cuts Gov. John Bel Edwards outlined Tuesday will scare the hell out of scores of Louisianians while tens of thousands more of our friends and neighbors couldn’t care less.
Real or not, the proposed cuts Edwards rolled out in a brief appearance before the House Appropriations Committee will put intense pressure on state lawmakers to raise additional taxes.
Though the Legislature has raised some $2 billion in new taxes in two legislative sessions, Edwards says the state treasury needs another $750 million to properly make ends meet. That’s a tall order, especially in a state in which the economy isn’t exactly on the upswing and the people have yet to realize the full effects of the spike in the state sales tax that lawmakers approved in a special session less than two months ago.
Edwards’ plan to bring the state budget in balance unless taxes are raised again includes a $408 million reduction in general fund revenues for the Department of Health and Hospitals, $183 million ripped out of the TOPS program, $46.1 million gone from higher education and $34.1 million stripped from the Department of Corrections while some $15.9 million would disappear from the judicial branch. Even the legislative branch would take a hit of some $7.3 million.
Simply put, the governor spread the proposed cuts around to negatively impact each facet of state government that’s certain to stir stakeholders, particularly individuals and businesses whose subsistence depends on working for or doing business with the state.
Edwards made no bones about his plan to head off the cuts. He will call the Legislature into a second special to raise additional revenue, which means he will lean on lawmakers to raise taxes. Again. Those tax hikes most likely will entail
higher state income taxes because sales taxes, for all practical purposes, can’t go any higher. And the only steady source of income the state could possibly realize is income derived from people who actually work for a living.
An oil and gas processing tax represents an alternative that could give the state a huge shot in the arm financially and would negate any need to raise income taxes, but this governor, thus far, has exhibited no appetite to go there. Either he doesn’t think it’s a good idea or he’s too busy collecting campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. My money is on the latter.
It should surprise no one that Edwards shot down a suggestion to wait until the fall before calling the second special session of the year. If he waited to determine how much money the increased sales taxes generated, we might learn it was more than projected and another tax hike isn’t necessary. Besides, every new governor has a long list of promises he made on the campaign trail and those promises cost money. And the folks who were promised something probably aren’t interested in waiting too long to collect on what they feel is owed them.
So the gist of Edwards’ revised proposed budget is cuts are on the way for everything that matters in state government unless lawmakers bite the bullet and raise taxes for a third time in a year. Remember, lawmakers ginned up some $800 million in new taxes last year to go along with the $1.2 billion in taxes in the special session in February.
That’s a lot of money. Yet, it’s not enough for this administration.
Sam Hanna is a state