The Louisiana Legislature’s 17-day special session called by Gov. John Bel Edwards in early February hit a point of near collapse Sunday night as lawmakers could not reach a consensus on how to close the gap in our state’s budget for the upcoming budget year that begins July 1.
The gap was originally reported to be a $1 billion budget shortfall needed to replace an estimated $1.3 billion in temporary taxes that are set to expire on June 30, 2018. However, with the new federal tax changes that have resulted from President Trump’s tax plan, Louisiana will benefit in a positive way to the tune of about $302 million.
So, Governor Edwards has now acknowledged that what was originally a $1 billion budget gap target has now been reduced to around $692 million.
As we have been told by some members of our local delegation, this special session would have somewhat eased the necessity for such stringent budget discussions in the regular session of the Louisiana Legislature, which convenes for a nearly three-month run on March 12. However, other members of our local delegation saw no need for this special session to take place.
What comes to my mind is how hard I see our local state legislative delegation working on a daily basis. In our office, we communicate with them on an almost daily basis. Each member is passionate about what our state needs, what their constituents want and how they can best serve the needs of both their constituents and our state.
What this special session boils down to in my view is a battle along strict partisan political lines, similar to what we are seeing on the national front. Both sides are passionate about what they want and how they see the overall picture. Who will win? Who gives in? No one? Well, when that happens in Louisiana, our state suffers.
The question is, how do we make this work?
We can not go on seeing repeated cuts to higher education and healthcare each year just because those are the only two areas under our current state constitution where cuts can be made.
As I said in my Feb. 18, 2015, Bossier Press-Tribune editorial, “We can’t keep gutting higher education or we will definitely pay the price in terms of the industry we attract to our state and the resulting drain on our business climate. Reducing state spending on higher education severely limits the options of our best and brightest. And, once these young people leave our state to pursue other options, the chances of their returning to our state are very low.”
There is no doubt that changes have to be made, even if we stick with our current constitution and changes are made through amendments, which is a very long and sometimes unproductive process. However, the best route is to make changes in our state constitution.
Folks, let’s be honest: It is time for a Louisiana Constitutional Convention.
The sooner the better. We have reached the point to where we no longer have a choice and the future of our state heavily depends upon the outcome. Our current state constitution was ratified in 1974. Operating under a 44-year-old, heavily amended state constitution is no longer feasible for our future well being.
But without compromise, nothing can be accomplished. Maybe we can take a lesson from Ronald Reagan, who was a master at the art of compromise. Reagan was considered a pragmatist who was not going down standing on principle, and he would not shun any and every opportunity to find an appropriate and workable compromise.
There is no doubt that while there are so many who are working hard, is there nowhere that we can find that middle ground? Without it, we might not have any ground left to stand on.
Randy Brown is Publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org