Part 2: We’ve Got To Get It Right This Time
I may have left some of you hanging last week by ending my column with the threat of no LSU football for next season due to our state’s budget crisis. Well, in my opinion, you can rest easy folks, this is surely not going to happen. Even if (and it is a big IF at that) there were some type of unimaginable budget situation that caused even the mere threat of a temporary closure for LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge (thereby rendering the school’s athletes ineligible to play by NCAA rule due to incomplete grades), the Tiger Athletic Foundation (and the wealthy boosters thereof) would step up and come to the rescue. After all, this group was right at the brink of paying $15 million to buy out the remainder of Head Football Coach Les Mile’s contract near the end of the 2015 football season. As such, there is no way they would let next football season be jeopardized by the shortage of a mere 65 million dollars within the LSU system, right? This is merely yet another scare tactic.
However, on to budget situations even more serious than football (if there are any more serious than football within the state of Louisiana…LoL…just kidding…well, sort of), we do face major problems. As I stated in Part 1 of this column last week, this is serious! What I am hearing from so many of my friends and contacts is a question: why does Louisiana keep finding itself in constant budget crisis mode….year, after year, after year? Why can’t this be fixed? Once again in the opinion of so many that I hear discussing these matters, our state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. As I also stated last week, I am on the fence with this opinion, caught somewhere in between both lines of thinking. A revenue problem quite obviously, but also a spending problem for sure! I will say once again, something has to be done!
I know that with the price of crude oil dropping to what it is in this day and time (oil prices that we have not seen as low in over 17 years (at a February low of $26 per barrell)), revenues to the state of Louisiana are catastrophically down. However, what was done with the funds from our state’s vast oil holdings and interests when times were so good? The short answer is, these funds were spent. Which once again leads us back to a spending problem vs. a revenue problem. Why couldn’t some of these revenues have been set aside for a rainy day (which is apparently where we stand right now)? The rainy day has arrived…again!
Also, Gov. Edwards’ recent declaration to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program (as a part of complying with many of the mandates issued by “Obamacare”) is not going to help fiscal matters within our state by any means. Yes, it is true, the federal government will pick up the majority of the expanded Medicaid tab initially, but where will we be in the years ahead when the federal government is no longer footing the majority of the bill? No doubt, Louisiana will once again be left holding the bag! And, a very expensive bag it will be……and for a state in repetitive budget crisis.
When people begin using the emergency room for even simple medical situations and procedures at five times the cost, how is that going to help matters in any way? And, you know who will be paying the exorbitant medical bills? Of course, the tax payers of Louisiana. Please don’t get me wrong. I most certainly do not want to see anyone who needs medical treatment (and can not afford the care they need) to be turned away. But come on folks, there has to be a better answer than this! Driving up medical expenses for them to be paid by the taxpayer is never a good solution for any state! Most especially for a state in budget crisis and already on the brink of having to raise taxes for it’s citizens.
In the special legislative session that began in Baton Rouge on February 14th, our legislators are dealing with some horrifically tough situations in terms of our state budget.
As we have all seen in various news reports, it has in no way been an easy nine days since this session began. And in the end, it will not have been an easy three weeks in Baton Rouge for our statewide legislators by any means! Truly, I would not want to be in their shoes. However, I am so glad that there are people that want to take on this unenviable task! Thank God for them! They ran for office and we elected them. So, I truly believe that we have the right people in place for the job! And, it is time for them to do their job! We are tired of a continuously perpetual budget crisis..year after year.
And, once again, for both this special session and the regular session to follow, cuts to higher education and healthcare are once again on the table. Last Spring in an editorial somewhat similar to this one during the 2015 legislative session, I gave my sincere opinion that our state needs a Constitutional Convention to be placed on the ballot by our Legislature so that Louisiana voters can have the chance to amend our state constitution in relation to finally getting rid of the critical state budget constraints that result in restrictive budget set asides leaving no room for budget cuts anywhere except for our state’s higher education and healthcare systems. As I also said last Spring, how are we going to continue to attract the business and industry that our state so critically needs to remain economically viable, if we do not have the education system to support these businesses?
The short answer is, we are not. How are we going to keep our best and brightest at home within the state of Louisiana to receive their higher education degrees if there are no desired degrees available in a vast array of fields of study? Again, the short answer is, we are not. And, when they leave, they don’t return to our state.
And, as I said last week, we’ve all got to get it right this time. Unquestionably, time is running out! Our Louisiana Legislature needs to fix our state budget and do so by finally calling for our state’s constitution to be amended by voter approval and thereby freed from antiquated budget restraints and restrictions.
Randy Brown is Publisher of the
Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached