By John Kennedy, Louisiana State Treasurer
BATON ROUGE — Louisiana just became a more expensive place to live, work, play, raise a family and own a business.
As we all know, legislators watched winter turn into spring and then spring turn into summer at the State Capitol this year. They spent 19 weeks in legislative session.
Here’s what was accomplished:
State government now has the second largest budget in Louisiana history (second only to the post-Hurricane Katrina days when state government was a mere conduit for the millions of federal taxpayer dollars that flowed through to help our people rebuild).
Counting last year’s regular session, the legislature raised $2.4 billion in new taxes and fees. Not all legislators went along; many fought valiantly against the Governor and his supporters, who apparently believe we are one tax increase away from prosperity. But the governor won, and it’s the largest tax increase in Louisiana’s history. What’s worse, not a single bill that even remotely resembles spending reform passed.
And there’s talk Governor Edwards may call lawmakers back to the Capitol in the fall. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure my family can afford that.
Louisiana businesses, many struggling, are going to feel the impact. Louisiana families that already are hurting from a depressed oil and gas industry and Mother Nature’s wrath in north Louisiana from the March floods are going to feel the impact. It couldn’t come at a worse time: We have the third highest unemployment rate in the country, and it’s climbing.
The state budget now tops $26 billion. If you add in spending for the Legislature, the judicial branch and other state government expenses, the budget tips the scale at more than $31 billion. It’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s also $3 billion more than last year.
Now some people will tell you the budget’s big because we put off paying bills and because we expanded Medicaid and really the increase is all federal dollars.
First of all, where do you think those federal dollars came from? The taxpayers supply them. They’re not plucked off a tree in the back yard of the White House. Second of all, it’s not all federal dollars.
Out of our $26 billion budget, $12 billion is federal funds and $14 billion is state funds. That’s 31% more state money than we had in 2010. I don’t know about you, but my family’s income hasn’t gone up 31% since 2010. State taxes and fees were raised to generate a lot of that increase. In fact, we now have the highest sales tax rate in America.
The sad thing is the budget has soared during an especially trying time for so many Louisianians. Every day, there’s news about more layoffs. Between December 2015 and May 2016, our unemployment rate steadily increased.
Kids graduating college are having trouble finding jobs. People in their 50s who have been with the same company for decades are scouring for anything that will keep food on the table.
What’s even more astonishing is that we have the largest tax increase in Louisiana history and yet TOPS isn’t fully funded. K-12 education is taking a funding hit. And we might have to take out a loan in order to maintain cash flow.
How can we still not pay our bills? Clearly, we have a spending problem.