Jan. 18, 2012 06:00 AM

Loaded and Coded
Beware those who would bestow fiscal responsibility' on local government.

At first blush it sounds like the simplest of concepts. Ensure expenses don't exceed income.

Loaded and Coded
Beware those who would bestow fiscal responsibility' on local government.

At first blush it sounds like the simplest of concepts. Ensure expenses don't exceed income.

But fiscal responsibility has become the most loaded and coded term in our political parlance since a black man laid his head on a pillow in the White House, and it has migratory powers that would make a monarch butterfly blush. To be sure, there's been something south of a paucity of fiscal responsibility by the federal government dating back decades. But the term has fluttered from where it's applicable - Washington, D.C. - to Lafayette Consolidated Government, where it's become code for something else entirely. Now it means "spending priorities," and I'm calling bull.

This is a community conversation we need to have in Lafayette, and one this newspaper hopes to cultivate as we move through the master planning process that nears.

During the campaign last fall, at least one Tea Party-backed candidate for the City-Parish Council made "fiscal responsibility" a refrain during what turned out to be a successful bid for office. And just a couple of weeks ago, after he and the other eight members of the CPC were sworn in for four-year terms, a representative of the Tea Party of Lafayette told a reporter in a story that framed the inauguration as a successful insurgency by the political far right: "We want to work with the administration still, but we're just looking for more fiscal responsibility in government on all levels."

The implications of the story's ground-floor architecture and the Tea Party comment are two-fold: One, the far right in Lafayette politics is now a force that must be reckoned with, which I don't buy, and two, the fiscal supervision of Lafayette Consolidated Government has been irresponsible. That, my friends, is a load.
LCG is in the black. It has a budget surplus. Its bond rating, which is arguably the best thermometer for a city's fiscal health, is good.

The Fitch Group, which along with Standard & Poor's and Moody's comprises the "Big Three" credit rating agencies, said this about Lafayette last spring: "The city's general fund has consistently maintained a healthy reserve level, with unreserved balance ranging between 25% and 35% of expenditures. Fiscal 2010 consolidated government (city and parish combined) unreserved general fund balance totaled $25.4 million, or approximately 26% of total spending."

Fitch summarized its estimation of Lafayette, in part, by concluding: "The city maintains a sound financial profile which is characterized by sizeable operating reserves."

We're living well within our means with a little disposable income in the bank.

Moody's recently rated LCG's ability to meet its various bond obligations in a range from Aa2 to A1 - near the top for long-term bonds. If LCG were a person, she would have a killer credit rating and a sky-high credit line on the plastic in her pocketbook. And she would wear a tiara with a fleur de lis motif of cubic zirconium, because that's the way I like my anthropomorphized governments.

All this talk about fiscal responsibility is really just code for fiscal priorities, specifically spending taxpayer money to support the arts and culture, and to help keep up the stitching in our very porous social safety net.

There are those among us, including the newly elected chair and vice chair of the council, for whom roads, drainage and public safety are the sole purview of government. Anything beyond that is unnecessary extravagance - fiscally irresponsible frivolity.

And then there's the rest of us. Fortunately the rest of us remains a majority recognizing that quality of life is much more than a smooth transit on a freshly paved road from a zombie exurb to the office and back again.


Introducing The Current