By Robert Mann
To paraphrase Groucho Marx: They may talk like charlatans and look like charlatans. But don’t let that fool you. They really are charlatans.
How long have Republican leaders in the Louisiana Legislature assured us the state’s budget could be balanced — mostly or entirely — by spending cuts? Their obsession with cuts is one reason so many of them voted to bring the recent fiscal special session crashing down. They have attacked Gov. John Bel Edwards, suggesting state government is plagued by massive amounts of waste and abuse.
They’ve been preaching this specious sermon for years.
“If you can control government spending, then we don’t have to have these conversations over and over and over again,” Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, said last month.
“Government needs to be as efficient and as lean as possible,” Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said. “Additional revenue is a last resort. There are other ways to balance the budget other than imposing taxes on citizens who live and work in this state.”
“My constituents are asking me, from questionnaires I send out, to reduce waste and government spending,” Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, said.
These comments appear to reflect how most Republicans in the state House think. There’s only one problem — and it exposes them as hypocrites, at best, or con artists, at worst. These lawmakers have never identified the cuts they say the governor should make to close the $700 million budget shortfall that will remain when $1 billion in temporary taxes expire on June 30.
It’s not that they lack the manpower to find those cuts, if they exist. Hundreds of legislative staff members could scour the budget for them. They also have the reports of various management experts the state has paid millions over the years to find additional cuts and efficiencies (most of which were adopted long ago).
And, yet, despite bleating about how Edwards should trim the budget before proposing new revenue to support health care, higher education and other critical programs, Republicans have never produced the cuts.
The most-charitable view is they haven’t bothered to look. Less-charitable is that the cuts aren’t there, and they know it. The least-charitable view — and the one that seems obvious — is that this is all about ensuring Edwards’ defeat next year.
That is not only my view, but that of several prominent House Republicans, including Barry Ivey of Baton Rouge, who confessedrecently: “We don’t want a Democrat (governor) to get re-elected, and we don’t want to give him a political win by doing tax reform. That was something that was told to me (by party leaders). We placed politics ahead of our constituents. We should all be ashamed.”
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