Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. June 19, 2022.

Editorial: With a gusher of federal funds, it’s back to the future for free-spending legislators

The secret of happiness has been found at the State Capitol.

Spend an extra $3 billion.

“Quite frankly I am very happy with the way the session turned out,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Senate President Page Cortez, of Lafayette, added his rumination on good-government spending.

“We paid down debts that we owed,” Cortez told this newspaper in an interview. “We paid almost every federal cost share that we owed. We paid off every judgment. The (Wall Street) rating agencies have given us an increased rating because of that.

“We put money against the UAL (unfunded accrued liability of pension systems). We put money into deferred maintenance for colleges and universities as well as state buildings, the ‘rainy day’ fund.

“We’ve checked about every box you could check from a good government financing perspective.”

Ah, three or four billion more dollars, and government is good, real good.

Other members of the Legislature weighed in with this chorus of approval. Even those who are most loudly proclaimed, by themselves, as fiscal conservatives seemed content to point out that they have brought home the bacon for the good folks back home.

From the Superdome to the Cajundome, from Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge to Interstate 49 in Lafayette, from New Orleans’ Sewerage & Water Board to the west bank’s soccer fields and the Comite River Diversion Canal in north Baton Rouge — everybody who was anybody got a cut.

Far be it from us to rain on the spending parade, whether it is good politics or bad.

We supported many of the things that Cortez listed as positive, and overall we are pleased that one-time money was largely spent on projects, including politically popular roads and bridges, instead of expanded operating costs.

But let’s not forget — or forgive — the loads of bad-government spending that went into the budget that made Edwards and others “very happy.”

We see the internal politics of the budget in the Legislature as not that much different from the bad ol’ days, with millions spent on pork-barrel projects.

By one count, at least $100 million was given over to old-fashioned pork-barrel local projects — and because there were several appropriating bills, and a gusher of federal funds to be parceled out in the state budget, that total may be very conservative when all is accounted for.

Much of it is abetted by key players like Senate Finance Committee chairman Bodi White of suburban Baton Rouge, who put in $1 million for the breakaway “city of St. George” in the capital city. That’s been blocked in court. But what does that matter when you have the power to use the state’s money to write a check, without there even being a bank account in which to deposit it?

Politics of the old days, in the “good government” Republican Legislature.

“I completely understand why they have these pork projects,” said Steven Procopio, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. “You’re delivering something that’s good for your community. But it’s about using political influence to get as much for your constituents as possible. They could put money into the early childhood education trust fund or paying down retirement debt. All of this would make budgeting easier in the future.”

In other words, political short-term thinking remains a way of life in the State Capitol. Good government with an asterisk, or is that a series of dollar signs next to Legislature 2022?