Governor Blanco caused quite a stir during the closing days of the recent legislative session when she chided legislators by telling them that “Mama” wasn’t very happy with their actions and would have to “discipline” them if they continued to “misbehave” by pursuing too many tax cuts. Signs popped up on many legislators’ desks expressing the sentiments that the governor wasn’t their mother and their constituents wanted different spending and tax reduction proposals than those in favor with the governor.
The governor obviously was speaking both factually and, to some extent, tongue-in-cheek when she made those comments. Her words, however, are a testimonial to a fact of life in Louisiana: We are, indeed, a nanny state. The reason for that has nothing to do with the fact that we are currently governed by our first female governor. The evolution of Louisiana as a nanny state began long before Kathleen Blanco became governor and, unfortunately, is likely to continue long after she leaves office next January.
Edwin Edwards was a major contributor to the nannyism prevalent in Louisiana’s governmental circles today. His governing style was fueled by making big promises to local governments and delivering on those promises. Under his “protective custody,” local governments became much more focused on getting the state to provide funding and services for things paid for and delivered at the local level in other states.
The nanny state wasn’t conceived and perfected by Democrats alone. Governor Dave Treen helped it along immensely. The “embarrassment of riches” that oil and gas revenues poured into state coffers during his tenure wasn’t used exclusively to advance state priority needs (such as higher education funding and major highway improvements). Instead, much of it went to feed the appetites of local governments who found it much easier politically to let the state pay for local needs and demands. Treen compounded the problem by pushing through a constitutional amendment that raised the homestead exemption for local property taxes from $50,000 to $75,000—reducing more of the local government tax base and making them more dependent on “Mama.”
Democrat-turned-Republican Buddy Roemer had a golden opportunity to start reversing the nanny state syndrome when he entered office facing the severe fiscal problems left to him by actions taken in the third term of Edwin Edwards. Instead of reforming state spending practices and telling local governments they had to start fending for themselves, Roemer opted for “temporary” taxes and continued the system.
Governor Mike Foster was a master at using the nanny state for political advantage. He moved the state even deeper into providing state funds for local functions and played the Legislature like trained seals with his use of slush funds to broker support on issues he deemed important.
If anything has been “bipartisan” over the years, it has been the constant escalation of state government funding local needs with state dollars that should be going to fund critical functions that the state is best suited to provide. The result has been ugly. Our state highway system is underfunded because too much money goes to local roads. We have too many post-secondary education institutions (because the locals want them on almost every street corner), and it leads to mediocrity. In short, “Mama” has lost control of the household and the “children” continue to set the agenda.
Two things are necessary to reverse the nanny state trend. At some point, a governor has to have the courage to say “No!” and we as citizens must learn that the best and most efficient government is the one closest to home.