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Monday, May 23, 2016

PLAYING GAMES?

It’s time to put people ahead of party

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was in a local liquor store the other day buying a little spirits to keep my spirits up when a man, perhaps in his late 30s, walked in looking to buy some high-end booze. He did a double take when he saw the price and immediately asked the clerk why the booze had gone up in price. The clerk calmly explained the Legislature had increased the taxes on liquor and cigarettes and that the maker of the booze had raised its price on the brand he wanted to buy.

So, the 30-something blurted out, “That’s your governor for you.” Well, I could not bite my tongue. I said, “No, it’s not my governor, it’s your governor we have had for the past eight years who created the financial mess. My governor is trying to fix it.” He looked befuddled and made a quick exit from the store. It just goes to show how uninformed – or misinformed – many people are about what is going on in government not only at the state level, but at the local and national levels as well.

Louisiana’s Republican leaders, columnists, bloggers and some elected officials keep trying to spin the dire budgetary situation and place the blame on Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has been in office less than six months. Unfortunately, many believe it because they want what they consider the status of being a Republican. Fortunately, many do not, as Edwards’ job approval rating continues to rise, sitting now at 45 percent.

Making things difficult for the Edwards administration is the fact the Louisiana House and Senate are both still controlled by the Republican Party. Therefore, they have control of the important committees, such as the House Appropriations Committee, which was stacked with a GOP majority. That opens the door for them to play games with the budget that has been put forth by Edwards. There seems to be a Washington-like attitude in the Louisiana Legislature to put party ahead of people and do everything possible to make Edwards look like the villain for raising taxes and making cuts. The apparent goal: Make sure that Democrat John Bel Edwards does not get re-elected.

Well, my thinking is this: The Republicans have had control of the Legislature for the past eight years, and they apparently did not do a very good job, along with their Gov. Bobby Jindal, in putting the state on a sound financial footing. They – and Jindal – amassed a $2 billion deficit, which was inherited by Edwards. It’s as though these Republicans just can’t believe the voters elected a Democrat as governor.

They did. And it would behoove the Republican leaders in the Legislature to work with the Edwards administration to plug that huge budget hole they have created. There has been progress, thanks to the budget crafted by Edwards, and the budget deficit for fiscal 2017 now stands at about $600 million. What the Republican-controlled Legislature had done over the past eight years apparently didn’t work, so why not give the plan Edwards has crafted a shot?

The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, pushed a budget that, on the surface, would fully fund the student aid program TOPS, but at the expense of Louisiana’s charity hospitals, several of which would have to be shut down. The Council for a Better Louisiana was quick to call it “a shell game” proposed to curry favor with voters but fails to solve pressing budgetary issues. The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, which endorsed a Republican for governor, said in an editorial, “Some Republican leaders, apparently unable to accept that a Democrat sits in the governor’s chair, have run off the rails with partisan craziness.”

The craziness does not stop with the Legislature. Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican from New Iberia, wants to establish what would be a fourth branch of government. He wants his own budget separate from the budget that is the constitutional duty of the executive branch – a.k.a. Edwards – to prepare. The House went along with his scheme, but there is hope the Senate will put an end to his pompous foolishness. If not, his power grab will certainly be vetoed by the governor.

Then there is Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser who, along with GOP Chairman Roger Villere, went over the governor’s head and got involved in a bizarre scheme with companies in Lake Charles and Delaware to cut a deal with Iraq’s oil export agency. The Baton Rouge Advocate, which exposed the deal, said it appeared to be a scam. Nungesser, in an effort to make a name for himself, told everyone he was acting on behalf of the governor, which, of course, was not true. To his credit, Nungesser has apologized for his craziness.

Republicans need to realize that what they have done isn’t working. The Republican-controlled Congress has an approval rating of 11 percent. And the party has been taken over by Donald Trump as he has eliminated every establishment opponent seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Are Louisiana Republicans paying attention? Voters are fed up, and they are angry. They want elected officials to start doing what is best for the people and not their political party. It’s a lot to ask of some of these partisans, but it would be wise for them to heed the warning.

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