Louisiana crippled by TABOR spending rules

If there was ever a time that a limit on state spending shouldn't apply, one could say that recovering from the biggest "natural disaster" in history would be it.

But the Louisiana 2006 special legislative session is stuck in a stalemate, as Gov. Katherine Blanco has failed to get a 2/3 House vote needed to lift a constitutionally-enshrined cap on spending that Louisiana voters enacted in 1998 as part of a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" (pdf), or TABOR -- a darling cause of right-wing think tanks in the 1990s.

Here in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune reports on the damage that TABOR (and those unwilling to suspend it) has dealt to Blanco's 10-day special session:

The House of Representatives struck a crippling blow Wednesday to Gov. Kathleen Blanco's bid for public employee pay raises, road construction dollars and other new spending, refusing for the third straight day to raise a constitutional cap on state spending.

The mostly party-line vote left the governor's spending agenda in tatters and sent administration officials scrambling to find silver linings in the 10-day special lawmaking session Blanco convened to distribute a $2.4 billion tax windfall.

Blanco and Democrats point out that many of the spending items that would push the budget over the limit are sorely needed and wildly popular: "I wonder how much time do we need to decide that we need to spend some money on highways and roads?" said Rep. John Alario, who handled the governor's money bills.

But a block of mostly Republicans are flexing their muscle and so far have refused to compromise -- and with the session slated to end Sunday, it might be unsalvagable.

Louisiana's experience should be a warning to other states that enact rigid rules in the name of fiscal restraint, but which end up hamstringing their ability to respond to urgent needs.

Policies like TABOR sound good at election time. But people here in Louisiana are desperate for jobs, homes, and schools, and the state has become "Exhibit A" in showing why inflexible rules can cause widespread suffering -- not to mention strangle long-term economic growth.

The Progressive States Network has an excellent run-down on the powerful interests that have pushed TABOR laws, and its disastrous record in Colorado. Unfortunately, we may have to add Louisiana to the list of TABOR casualties.