“We will never tax, spend and regulate ourselves out of this problem,” former State Treasurer and current U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said about the state’s financial issues.1 “They can raise taxes as high as they want to and we’ll still have a problem. I don’t mean any disrespect, but it’s the spending stupid – that’s the problem.” For several years, Sen. Kennedy has expressed his disgust with the overspending in Louisiana’s government.
“It’s the spending stupid – that’s the problem.”
Kennedy’s disgust is certainly warranted given the fact that John Bel Edwards’ first budget was one of the biggest budgets since Hurricane Katrina, yet he’s spending more state tax dollars than ever before.
Over the last decade, Louisiana’s budget increased by nearly $10 billion, or 32 percent, and meanwhile, Louisiana’s population has remained basically unchanged.2 Accounting for national inflation during that time, our budget should have only increased by less than $4 billion, which means the state’s budget has risen over $6 billion dollars more than needed.
These facts raise some serious questions:
· Why is our state government continuing to grow at more than double the rate of national inflation?
· How much larger should we allow it to continue to grow?
· How much are taxpayers on the hook for to continue this rapid growth?
Congressman Mike Johnson agrees with Sen. Kennedy about the major impact out of control spending is having on our continually expanding budget and taxpayer wallets. “We have the highest per capita government spending in the South. We spend nearly 30 percent more than the Southern average, and yet we have little to show for it,” Johnson said.3
“When 22% of the managers in Louisiana’s classified civil service manage only one other employee, 19,000 consulting contracts bleed the public fiscally and $830 million per year is wasted in fraudulent Medicaid payments alone, everyone should recognize we have a major problem.”
For the last several years, common sense politicians and economic experts like Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Johnson have correctly asserted that Louisiana needs to spend its already significant tax revenue wisely and cut wasteful spending. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that Gov. John Bel Edwards and his administration are dead set on collecting record amounts Louisiana taxpayer money.4
It has become apparent that Gov. John Bel Edwards and his administration are dead set on collecting record amounts Louisiana taxpayer money.
Much of Gov. Edwards’ first term has consisted of scare tactics like threatening cuts to essential programs for the state, including to the TOPS scholarship and hospitals, if the Legislature refused to raise funds through tax increases. In reality, Gov. Edwards and his administration refused to acknowledge its unnecessary spending in many areas. “We’re spending more than we take in,” Sen. Kennedy told the Lake Charles American Press editorial board. “The evidence is pretty overwhelming that we are.”
When asked for examples of problem spending, Sen. Kennedy usually points to the more than 19,000 consulting contracts on the state government payroll.5 Since Gov. Edwards took over, he has not only refused to back off of some of the expensive contracts, he has made it harder for Louisianians6 to see just how many of their tax dollars are going to these consultants. Sen. Kennedy called out the governor early in his term after he noticed the website giving insight into the contracts no longer provided crucial details like terms of financing and a shrunken description of the purpose of the contract.
The contracts aren’t the only obvious problem area Gov. Edwards continues to ignore despite his insistence of being dedicated to smart spending. On the campaign trail, Gov. Edwards claimed Louisiana’s Cabinet secretaries were paid too much by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, and he scoffed at the idea of paying his own staff similar salaries. “We’re not going to pay the same salaries that Bobby Jindal’s been paying. They’re exorbitant. They’re too high. We’re going to reduce those costs right off the top,” Edwards said at the time. He changed his tune quickly after being elected,7 however, keeping most of those so-called “exorbitant” salaries in place and even increasing them in some cases. For example, the Associated Press reported “the $180,000 salary allotted to Edwards’ executive counsel is $15,000 more than Gov. Jindal’s chief lawyer received, and the $110,000-a-year pay rate for Edwards’ communications director is $16,400 higher.”
Gov. Edwards claims he and the Legislature have cut hundreds of millions from the budget in his first year as governor. However, House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry said true cuts tallied closer to $36 million instead of the governor’s estimate.8 What the governor has managed to accomplish is raise taxes, costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions since increasing the state sales tax in 2016, just months after taking office.9
The Times-Picayune columnist JR Ball10 sums up Louisiana’s continued budget missteps and ill-advised spending habits better than anyone: “In truth, the state’s problems deal with an out-of-whack tax system, spending efficiency and the return on taxpayer investments,” Ball says. “But neither Gov. John Bel Edwards nor legislators want any part of tackling those problems.”
Gov. Edwards has shown he believes he can tax and spend his way out of trouble as long as he can get Louisiana taxpayers to foot the bill.
How much more will he ask for next and how long will we have to continue to overfund an already bloated government? How long will we keep sending our hard-earned tax dollars to the state capitol each year in the hopes it will lead to good schools, safe roads and a strong economy. As Rep. Johnson says, “[This] has proven to be a bankrupt game plan that must be replaced.”