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Opinion – John Bel Edwards – Deeper Cuts to Higher Ed and Healthcare aren’t a Budget Solution

Deeper Cuts to Higher Ed and Healthcare aren’t a Budget Solution

Only a few weeks have passed since I stood on the steps of our Capitol and asked you to join me in putting Louisiana first. Now, more than ever, the future of our state depends on a recommitment to that promise of unity and shared sacrifice to bring our state to a place of shared prosperity.
I don’t want to mince words – Louisiana is in a budget crisis. After eight years of dishonest budgeting, our state is facing a $750 million shortfall for this fiscal year and an expected $1.9 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year. This is the largest budget deficit in the history of our state. Those numbers are not just my numbers. The Legislature’s fiscal advisers as well as independent economists, such as LSU’s Jim Richardson, agree. We are in dire straits.
During the campaign, I told people of Louisiana that significant budget reforms would be required to end years of chronic revenue shortfalls and the failure to properly fund critical programs such as higher education and health care.
Since then, we all learned that budget problem is twice as big as we knew during the course of the campaign. Corporate income tax collections are down to negative $200 million, as the state doled out $200 million more in tax credits than we have collected in taxes. To make matters worse, the current year’s budget is sitting dangerously atop $800 million in one-time money — dollars that won’t be available in the new budget year but are being used to pay for on-going programs today.
Because these facts surrounding the budget have changed so significantly, so must the solutions we consider. The simple fixes and easy cuts were made years ago. There are no “easy” solutions left, and after eight years of living in budget fantasy land, it is time to govern — and to speak the truth.
I have offered a menu of options in order to stabilize our budget in the short term and put us on a long-term path to prosperity. This menu of options is unappealing, but the alternative to making hard choices now is catastrophic. Simply put, we must stabalize the budget in the short term and transition
to a more stable, reliable revenue stream in the long term.
I cannot support deep cuts to higher education and the elimination of critical health services that will result if we do not work together to tackle these budget challenges responsibly.
Additional cuts would force colleges into financial exigency, lead to hospital closures across the state and prevent the state from delivering basic and critical services to its citizens.
Like me, each of you knows a child who has left Louisiana to pursue an education free from the threat of cuts, to get a good job, or to pursue a rewarding career. We are failing too many of our kids and setting Louisiana families on a trajectory for generational struggle.
A distracting political storm is brewing. Detractors will spend more time on blame and rhetoric than they will giving solutions. Ask them to name the cuts that will solve the problem and who will suffer if those cuts are imposed. With a wise balance of responsible cuts and revenue-raising, we will emerge stronger together.
Washington-style politics have no place in Louisiana. I have asked even my most vocal critics to be solution-driven and compromise-oriented. So, please encourage your legislators to work with me.
In Louisiana, we are resilient, and we are determined to meet any challenge that comes our way. We are experienced at working together in the face of great adversity.
I ask you to join me, to stay involved. I ask you to choose productive dialogue over political chatter and practical solutions over reactionary anger. I ask you to be Louisianians first, not Democrats or Republicans. And I ask you to pray for our great state as we work together to solve these massive challenges and unleash greater opportunity and prosperity for our people. Make no mistake, our best days are ahead.

John Bel Edwards is Governor of the State of Louisiana.

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