What began as a legislative preview seminar at the LSU Law School morphed into a philosophy lesson when lawmakers were asked, “How do you balance wants and needs in budgeting policy?”
“Needs and wants – it’s just like beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder,” Senate Finance chairman Eric La Fleur, a Democrat from Ville Platte, responded. “And so while we may look at public policy as a whole, the other problem that all legislators have – because it’s just human nature – is that everyone is selfish, just in their own needs.”
New Orleans Senator J.P. Morrell, also a Democrat, disagreed, saying he doesn’t view it as selfishness. Nor does he see it as simply party partisanship. Instead, he believes there are currently two guiding theories used for government budgeting.
“The first is budgeting for outcomes – kind of the survival of the fittest.”
Senator Ronnie Johns, a Republican from Sulphur, jumped in and said, “We hear all the time, ‘You’ve got to run government like a business.’ Well, there’s a huge difference between government and business. Business is there to make a profit. Government is there to provide services.”
And Morrell says that leads to the other theory: “A budget as a moral document, where you say, ‘These are the things that people absolutely need. We budget for these items absolutely. Everything else is a want’.”
House Appropriations vice chairman, Baton Rouge Republican Franklin Foil offered a tongue-in-cheek third option, saying, “There’s another factor at play, too, in the House – probably 20 or 30 members just think we should cut our way out of the problem.”
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne had a summation.
“Churchill said, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all other forms of government’,” Dardenne quoted, drawing appreciative chuckles from the panel and the audience. “And we are a democracy and that’s how a legislature acts.”