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Present-proofing in vain

LouisianaLegislatureMainLouisiana state leaders are in the final day of a 25-day special legislative session, the purpose of which was to find solutions to a state budget crisis that was 8 years in the making. I repeat: despite the sense of sudden shock for many Louisianans who, up until a few weeks ago, were blissfully ignorant of the precarious state of our finances, our current budget crisis began in 2008 with the repeal of the Stelly tax plan and the subsequent, swift drop in oil prices. This was foreseen and cautioned against:

The bottom could fall out of the state budget if the bottom falls out of oil prices. To prevent an economic crisis in the future, the state should maintain budget flexibility and a diverse revenue base that includes a progressive personal income tax. The proposed return to pre-Stelly income tax rates and the state’s growing reliance on oil and gas revenues sets the state up for another boom and bust cycle.

But it was ignored then, and under the leadership of a blindly aspirational governor, ignored for the intervening 7 years by a state legislature that abdicated any constitutional or moral authority for leadership over budget matters to said governor and the whims of a fickle, conservative electorate.

Future-proofing is a concept utilized in a wide variety of commercial industries. It means anticipating what the future may hold and making plans and taking proactive steps to guard against potential threats or other adverse events. The goal is to make sure the business product or service remains viable and sustainable regardless of obstacles, challenges, or societal or technological changes. According to Wikipedia (famous last words, right?),  here are a few of the most relevant principles of future-proofing (for our purposes):

  1. Do no harm – don’t do anything that promotes deterioration
  2. Be flexible and adaptive
  3. Plan for and fortify against extreme weather events or shortages of necessary materials or energy

What the Legislature and Governor are currently trying to do is present-proofing – searching for sweeping solutions to the desperate (and again, foreseen) circumstances of Louisiana’s finances. And over the last few weeks, their work has mostly been one big game of drag-strip chicken between the uber-powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and its cabal of subservient lawmakers on one end, and a group of reasonable political moderates (mostly Democrats) and fence-riders who have the courage to use the T-word (yes, taxes) on the other.

How’s it working out? Not too well.

All of that comes to a head Wednesday when lawmakers have until 6 p.m. to reach a final deal with Edwards to avoid disrupting classes at LSU and the other state universities and colleges and to prevent state hospitals from turning away patients.

In a future post, I’ll dive in deeper on the concept of future-proofing, but suffice to say that the principles listed above are a little more advanced than what our leaders are currently capable of. When you’re worried about getting through the day, you’re certainly not thinking about whether the tactics you employ today are adaptable for tomorrow. Let’s just hope that they are adhering to the first principle for now.

In following Louisiana politics over the years, I’ve been frustrated with our leaders’ seemingly complete inability to think about and plan for the future. One reason interest groups like LABI have enormous power over elected officials – and thus over state policymaking in general – is that the furthest our elected officials can see into the future is the date of their next election. The only future-proofing happening in Baton Rouge these days is that of our leaders maneuvering for position for whatever their next campaign might hold. And those with the loudest voices in the Capitol – the interest groups – prefer it that way.

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