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Fiscal Myopia: Missing the Cliff Warning Signs

California Coastal Commission

“I see a deficit of just over $1.5-billion, correct? That's the fiscal cliff we keep talking about?” New Orleans Representative Gary Carter asked, as the latest tally of next July's fall off in state revenue was presented to the Joint Budget Committee last week.

Yet despite all the warning signs, some lawmakers don't see the drop as being all that steep.

“A significant part of that – four to five hundred million dollars of the fiscal cliff that we talk about -- is largely inflation,” Senator Sharon Hewitt of Slidell declared.

She also questioned the accuracy of the amount of the biggest reason for the plunge: the expiration of one penny of sales tax enacted “temporarily” in 2016.

“You believe that we did see roughly the billion dollar increase?” Hewitt quizzed legislative fiscal analyst Greg Albrecht.

“I don't have to believe it,” he replied testily. “I see the numbers come in every month from the Revenue Department. It's a dramatic step.”

And as Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne warns, there will be a dramatic fall off that step.

“The budget I'll present in February, as I'm required to do, will be balanced,” Dardenne informed members of the business community last week. “It'll cut a billion dollars.”

Some of the staunchest conservatives, like New Iberia Representative Blake Miguez, think that's fine.

“You've got to figure out a way to get state government to live within its means – live with the growth of the private sector,” Miguez insists.

This past spring, when lawmakers could have implemented substantive tax measures to prevent Louisiana from reaching the cliff, the conservative cadre held out against doing anything.

“We can't sustain more taxes. It's irresponsible!” Republican Representative Valarie Hodges of Denham Springs insisted.

But Baton Rouge Republican Representative Steve Carter doesn't understand why they didn't at least try to bridge the gap.

“I can't figure out why there are really good people in the legislature – they try to do the right thing – but for some reason just can't pull the trigger. And I'm not sure why that is.”

Tomorrow we'll look at the need for bridges – and roads.