Some of the constant critics of the administration of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards apparently have short memories. Perhaps another look back at what was happening in state government during the eight years before he took office might help them see how better off we are today.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., was state treasurer during those previous eight years and here is some of what Kennedy said about the Bobby Jindal administration in one of his guest columns that appeared in the American Press on Nov. 23, 2014:
“We have had six years of midyear budget cuts out of the last seven,” Kennedy said. “We’ve raided the Office of Group Benefits, the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, the Artificial Reef Development Fund and Lord knows how many others.
“We’ve diverted money dedicated to health care, education and TOPS from the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund into the state general fund. We finished last fiscal year with a $140 million deficit. One-third of the way through the fiscal year, we are already $172 million ($688 million annualized) over the budget in the Medicaid program, our largest expenditure.”
A legislative audit in April of 2014 said budget cuts to the state Department of Children and Family Services had negatively affected the ability of the state agency charged with investigating child abuse to do its job. The agency lost nearly 200 of more than 1,000 child welfare caseworkers from 2009 to 2013.
Kennedy earlier that year said the department back then failed to tackle food stamp fraud. A 2012 audit said 322 people who made more than $50,000 a year got $750,000 in food stamps. Another $1.1 million went to 1,761 people in 2011 and 2012 that were in jail that weren’t entitled to the stamps.
“What happened to these food stamp violators?” Kennedy asked. “Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.”
In November of 2013, the auditor found the state Department of Health had paid $1.85 million during a two-year period to more than 1,700 dead people. The Associated Press in another report said about $1.3 million in federal food card benefits were used over a four-year period after 3,938 people in one-person households died.
It took a dozen years during the Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco administrations to get colleges and universities and public teacher pay up to the Southern average in funding. During the Jindal years higher education suffered from over $700 million in budget reductions, the highest cuts in the country.
Republican Chuck Kleckley of Lake Charles, who was speaker of the House in January of 2015, said enough was enough when a $370 million reduction in higher education funding was proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Kleckley said. “Cutting higher education to that magnitude would not set us back years — it would set us back generations. It would go against everything we’ve done in economic development.
“I will not support a budget. I will not vote for a budget that has this kind of cut to higher education.”
Public school teachers got no pay raises, and public schools didn’t receive their annual increases in the Minimum Foundation Program that funds K-12 education.
Citizens eventually learned that Jindal had presidential ambitions, and that compounded state problems even more. He had already signed the Americans for Tax Reform no-tax pledge and in 2008 caved in to calls for repealing the Stelly income tax plan that was considered a great reform plan by all fiscal experts.
The tax plan ended state sales taxes on food sold for home consumption, prescription drugs and residential utilities in exchange for a higher income tax to make up for lost revenues. That sales tax provision couldn’t change without voter approval, but the Legislature reversed the income tax cuts. That doubled the loss of revenues that now total untold billions of dollars.
Edwards and the Republican controlled Legislature took office in 2016 facing a $2 billion deficit and raised a temporary state sales tax and eliminated some tax exemptions to balance the budget. When the 1 percent temporary sales tax increase went off the books two years later, lawmakers approved a 0.45 percent sales tax increase for seven years.
All areas of education earlier this year benefited. Teachers got their first pay increase in years and public schools and higher education got extra funds for the first time. The Edwards administration, by working with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, has restored the first sound budget stability in a decade.
Eddie Rispone, the governor’s Republican opponent Saturday, has sounded like a Jindal clone since he announced he was running. He said he plans to cut the budget and reduce taxes and refuses to give voters any details about how he is going to do that or how he would govern Louisiana. Do we really want to go back to the same financial turmoil that existed prior to Edwards taking office? I don’t think the voters do.