Opinion: Randy Brown – Part 1: We’ve Got To Get It Right This Time

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Part 1: We’ve Got To Get It Right This Time

I would like to begin this column by making it clear that I have never been a fan of new taxes. Most especially, I am not a fan of the tax and spend philosophy – as I have always called it. Growing up with a father who was in business for himself and in being a part of that business myself until about 15 years ago, I was taught from an early age that this was bad fiscal policy on the part of both our federal government and our state government. As I have grown older, I have still always believed against this type of fiscal approach. It is bad for business and it is bad for the businessman. However, for the State of Louisiana, raising some taxes (hopefully largely done through extremely small increases in sales taxes) may be the only way out of the mess that we find ourselves in. For sure, the situation must be fixed. And, we’ve got to get it right this time. We simply can not afford to keep going through this same depressed/totally upside down financial situation over and over again each and every budget year!
I would also like to go on record as saying that I was a huge Bobby Jindal fan back in 2008 when he took office as Louisiana’s governor. However, by the time he left office just over a month ago, I was no longer such a huge fan. In fact, I remain extremely disappointed with the majority of Governor Jindal’s second term in office. By all reasonable observations, our state appears to have been left in a horrible fiscal mess. Our state budget is completely upside down.
For sure, it is not ALL Bobby Jindal’s fault. Some tough calls had to be made and Jindal appeared to make them. And, Governor Jindal also brought business and industry to our state at an almost unprecedented level by using tax incentive programs and other fiscal measures in order to lure these businesses to Louisiana. But, this was done at what overall long term cost(s) to our state? Has our state recognized the positive economic gain promised on the front side vs. the decreased revenues realized by the tremendous incentives? Many say “no,” that we are in somewhere around a $200 million revenue deficiency in terms of positive revenue gain. The argument could be made, however , that many of these businesses and industries would never have located or re-located in/to Louisiana, if it were not for these lucrative tax incentives. And, some may also argue that Louisiana would have been better off in the long run if these tax incentive deals would not have been brokered to begin with.
Over the last few days, the ultra-hot topic of mass attention and conversation concerning the state of Louisiana has involved our state’s dire budget situation. For sure, there are big problems with the state budget. In some circles, you hear that it is actually not as bad as it is being portrayed by our new administration. Some say that the new administration is making it seem worse than it actually is just so that a bunch of new taxes can be put in place.
In other circles, you hear that it may even be worse than what we are being told right now. In this regard, I was informed of a press release Monday afternoon whereby Louisiana’s current Chief of Administration (and former Lt. Governor) Jay Dardenne stated the projected budget deficit for this current fiscal year to now be at an estimated $957 million (up from the $940 million originally projected). The increase is being attributed to $17 million in federal (FEMA) disaster relief dollars that were supposed to be paid to Lou-
isiana during this current fiscal year stemming all the way back to Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Now that these funds will not be realized in this current fiscal year, the budget deficit increases by an additional $17 million. Again, this makes the total budget shortfall for the state of Louisiana during this current fiscal year total an estimated $957 million. And, there is already a $2 billion budget shortfall projected for the next budget/fiscal year which begins on July 1, 2016. Needless to say, no matter who or what you believe about Louisiana’s current budget situation, we do have a problem. Some folks say it is a revenue problem. Others say it is a spending problem. Honestly, in my opinion, I believe that it is a combination of both.
Last Thursday night, our new Governor, John Bel Edwards, addressed the state with a speech that was carried live on television stations statewide. In his “State of the State” address, Gov. Edwards described the state’s “dire straits” budget situation as he sees it. In my opinion, though it all sounds really bad (and I truly think it is really bad), many scare tactics were used in the governor’s address. Yes, the stakes are high! I truly believe that in so many ways, the stakes have never been higher for Louisiana! However, scare tactics are not the way to solve this awful budget mess and in reality, scare tactics will accomplish nothing except to alarm Louisiana’s citizens under somewhat false pretenses. In turn, this could possibly even turn attention away from doing what really needs to be done.
As a result of Governor Edwards’ Thursday night address, by Friday morning, it was being said that our state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (“TOPS“), which supports tuition for thousands of Louisiana’s college students, was pretty much a “goner.” Under the proposed cuts, our state’s universities/colleges will have TOPS funding indefinitely suspended. Louisiana’s financial aid office has stepped in and agreed to cover 80% of TOPS payments, but this still leaves our universities/colleges (whose funding from the state has already been cut by 2/3 over the last eight years under the Jindal administration) to shoulder the burden of the remaining 20% of TOPS tuition. Add to this the fact that current proposals by the Edwards administration call for a possible reduction of an additional 20% in terms of the funding that our universities and colleges receive from the State of Louisiana. If we truly value higher education in this state, how can we let these drastic funding cuts to our institutions of higher learning keep happening year after year?
Furthermore, word was spreading like wildfire by Friday morning that LIU (and other universities within the state) might not have athletic seasons during the remainder of 2016 (including football) due to the possibility of the schools having to close for all of part of the remainder of the 2016 Spring semester. Thereby, all students currently enrolled would receive a grade of incomplete for the Spring semester which would result in them being declared academically ineligible for athletics. This is an almost unbelievable scenario. Could this really happen? We also learned Monday afternoon that Nichols State University in Thibodaux may possibly close it’s doors for two weeks in order to absorb proposed state budget cuts. Wow! This seems totally unbelievable! Again folks, we’ve got to fix this and we’ve got to get it right this time before it is too late. We are not going to keep getting repeated opportunities to get it right!

Randy Brown is Publisher of the Bossier
Press-Tribune. He can be reached at
rbrown@bossierpress.com