Opinion: Marty Carlson – Louisiana Lawmakers Must Do Their Job

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Louisiana Lawmakers Must Do Their Job

It seems like each new year brings a new fiscal crisis to Louisiana state government. A new budget disaster, new threats to the security of higher education, safety net health care, and a slew of other state agencies.

But that’s really not the case. Instead, for at least the last eight years or so, it’s been one long, painful train wreck that’s now reached a point of doing serious – perhaps permanent – damage to our safety net health system and our colleges and universities.
And, that perpetual train wreck is in the greatest part a result of state lawmakers who have chosen not to assert any modicum of leadership or honesty in rejecting the annual pixie dust facade that “balanced” the budget in favor of real and hard work to right our state’s fiscal standing.

Better said in an April 26, 2015 the Times-Picayune editorial: “Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion budget deficit and talk of multiple state universities declaring they are financially unstable. We desperately need wise and fearless leadership. We need leaders who aren’t concerned about upsetting Americans for Tax Reform or other special interest groups. We need leaders who aren’t grasping for personal recognition or covering their political backsides.”

We do, indeed. But the chances of seeing those folks emerge in the current special session sure seem slim. A case in point, Dist. 20’s Rep. Steve Plyant’s much quoted concerns about LSU sports. “Hell would freeze over” before LSU doesn’t play football in Tiger Stadium next year.

How does it work that collegiate football trumps the future of the LSU Medical School in Shreveport? The future of our state higher education system has grown more perilous every year, largely due to lawmakers who consistently deferred to a Governor who’s political ambitions have damaged Louisiana’s standing on countless fronts.
“It’s our job to do what’s best, and we didn’t do it for eight years. We passed budgets that were phony and cut higher education to the bone. I apologize for it,” Rep. Dee Richard, Thibodaux, was quoted last year by The Advocate. Apologies for complicity do not solve our state’s problems.

By now, after almost a decade of gubernatorial and legislative smoke and mirrors budget tactics, Louisiana citizens ought to be fed up enough to call their lawmakers to account, and the sooner the better. It doesn’t take much of an internet review of state newspapers and news outlets to gather enough information about just how our state leaders worked us into this budget morass over the last several years. Moreover, that research provides some serious information on just why we may, very necessarily, need to look at increasing state revenue through moderate new taxes.

Lawmakers need to hear from us during the special and regular sessions of the Legislature this year. They need to hear that we expect them to make hard decisions that ensure the future of higher education, health care, and TOPS, among other state obligations — and they need to hear that we expect results, not Bobby Jindal style pixie dust fixes, this year.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at martycarlson1218@gmail.com