January 30, 2016
To a government thus inclined, as Louisiana's now is, raising taxes is a one-step dance of picking winners ... which leaves the losers: folks who pay taxes. A real, just and lasting solution - a long overdue redesign of our tax structure - requires work, heart and integrity.
As our new governor and legislature head down the worn, rutted, never-ending road of more taxes and attached damage, I urge them to consider a speech I have long treasured.
In 1962, at Rice University in Houston, President John F. Kennedy spoke of America deliberately choosing to do a hard thing: put a man on the Moon. Especially back then, such sounded almost unimaginably, h-a-r-d! Each time I read or listen to the speech, as I have since the sixth grade, it spotlights why and how government fails us ... as it did not do then.
Here is the heart of President Kennedy's speech. The emphases are his:
"But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon!... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win..." Here is a two-minute clip including that essence of the speech. My point, though, rests within five words President Kennedy scribbled into his speech immediately before its delivery ...
... "Why does Rice play Texas?"
In 94 football games since 1914, the Rice Owls have been beaten by the Texas Longhorns 72 times and tied them once. Losing 80% of the time, why does Rice keep playing Texas? Because it's hard.
Here and now, the lust for higher taxes is embarrassing. To listen to the insiders and their news media supporters, the sky is definitely falling, and our huge herd of sacred cows is in danger of imminent slaughter. We knew to expect this when we voted in November, but it has slapped us much harder, faster and more garishly than imagined. As Melinda Deslatte, our highly regarded Associated Press Capital Correspondent, recently wrote:
"As he offered his 'menu of options' to stabilize Louisiana's finances, Gov. John Bel Edwards's list might have surprised some of his own voters, containing a wide array of tax hikes that went beyond the budget-balancing-proposals he outlined during his campaign."
We can almost hear our taxers: "To hell with hard, let's just take some more of their money." Right. So the 600,000 residents, net, who moved away since 1980 aren't enough?! How many lost taxpayers will beenough?
Many of us recognize this playbook. President Obama & Team celebrated it ahead of its trillion-dollar "stimulus" throw-together in 2009: "Never let a crisis go to waste!"
Those Pesky Facts and Truth
Evidence easily calls bull feathers on more taxes and spending. Begin in 2004, with then-new Governor Kathleen Blanco, and end with our most recent budget year. Note, too, that all 2004 figures have been adjusted for inflation, 26% since then, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2004 and 2015, Louisiana ...
... population grew only +3%, a mere 133,906 people;
... revenue grew $2.0 billion, or +9%, $22.2 billion to $24.2 billion; and,
... SPENDING grew $3.3 billion, or +15%, $22.5 billion to $25.8 billion.
In only these 11 years, Louisiana revenue has risen 3-times the rate of population growth, and spending has jumped 5-times that rate.
Are you hearing the official and editorial wail that we must raise $3 billion right NOW, this instant, lest Louisiana die a horrible death? Then riddle me this: compared to 2004, we already had it, and spent it: in 2015, we spent what we did in 2004, plus the 26% inflation rate ($4.6 billion) plus$3.3 billion.Would someone please tell us where it went?
Remember: we blew through a fire hose gush of supposed "one-time" money for hurricane relief and the Obama Stimulus between late 2005 and 2011. It seems a lot of those "emergency needs" were not real emergencies, and remain in place. In other words, we grew government ... A LOT.
The Less Easy Way
Getting it right means Governor Edwards and the legislature call a constitutional convention and restructure revenue and spending for the Louisiana of 2016, a dramatically different state than the one at issue in writing our 1973 Constitution. Any tax increases in the upcoming special legislative session would then sunset - automatically disappear - in 12-to-18 months.
This would lay bare, finally and publicly, every dot and tittle of spending ... program by program ... insider deal by insider deal ... sacred cow by sacred cow. Who doubts that "cutting spending" is far easier and fair when we learn precisely how and why the growth of government continues unabated as our population stagnates?
A Moon shot?! Heck, our state government can't figure out how to get by on what we gave them in 2004, plus26% for inflation, plus $3.3 billion!
Why does Rice play Texas? Because, win or lose, Rice players are bettered by doing so. Texas plays Rice because it's easy, which accomplishes nothing.
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered "Other," or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing - unedited only, please - of his work is appreciated.)