On Monday, the Louisiana Legislature began its 59 day regular session for 2015. Lots of bills are on the table. As such, there is much work to be done in a very short period of time. The session started at noon on Monday, April 13 and must end by 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 11.
There is no doubt that our state is at a crossroads once again.
One of the biggest issues our legislators must deal with during this session involves the looming projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall for our state’s next fiscal year which begins July 1, 2015. Thus, many decisions will have to be made with respect to the strangling restrictions strictly limiting the areas where state budget cuts can take place. The long time used restricted method of protecting our state’s $24 billion budget results in only about $3 billion of the budget being unrestricted and open for reduced spending. And as reported, the projected budget shortfall for the next fiscal year is roughly half of the $3 billion unrestricted portion of the budget.
As I have pointed out in this column a couple of times over the last few months, practically everything in the budget is restricted except for higher education and healthcare (hospitals). State owned hospitals have already been privatized. So, an originally reported $400 million additional cut is possibly on the horizon for higher education in Louisiana (on top of the tremendous higher education cuts made a few years ago). In recent days, there have been some options discussed that will reduce the amount of higher education cuts due to the administration shifting some things around. I have voiced my opinion on this several times in this column and I want to go on record once again as being vehemently opposed to any further reductions in higher education spending. Simply, we can’t do this to our state and our young people. If this is done, how can we possibly expect to retain our best and brightest at home and how can we possibly expect to attract the business and industry that we so desperately need in order to keep pace with our neighboring states in the southern region? I learned the other day that Louisiana is now near the bottom of the list in terms of positive/major economic development activity among states in the southern region. As such, we can’t sink down even further by not having the tools that we need in order to remain competitive on the educational front.
A few weeks ago in this column, I called for a state Constitutional Convention in order to make the necessary changes that so crucially need to be made regarding a state constitution that was ratified in 1974. Though many constitutional amendments have been approved by Louisiana voters during this 41 year time span, our state constitution is outdated and in dire need of updating.
Louisiana is a great state — so full of life, food and fun! If this were not true, so many people would not be so extremely anxious to visit our state. As such, Louisiana has a lot going for it. I have never lived anywhere else and quite frankly, do not want to live anywhere else. I love our state! However, I don’t want to see us continue to slide even further down the ladder because our state government/legislature has their hands tied by an outdated state constitution and thus, can’t do what they really need to do when budget cuts have to be made. Most of our neighboring southern states do not have such restrictions on their state budgets and my, look at how they are now outpacing us in so many areas in terms of economic development and overall growth!
Again, our state legislature has an extremely tough couple of months ahead. We all need to pray for our legislators and also for the grueling tasks with which they are charged in the days ahead. We also need to pray that the decisions made during this legislative session will begin to move our state forward so that Louisiana can be the best it can possibly be for all of us!
Randy Brown is Publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org