Opinion: Randy Brown – They’ve got to get it right

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They’ve got to get it right

The regular session for the Louisiana State Legislature convened on Monday March 14, 2016. By statute, the session had to end Monday night by 6pm, after an 85 day run. Thirty minutes later, a special legislative session convened for the specific purpose of raising revenue/taxes. This special session was called by Governor Jon Bel Edwards about 12 days ago. There are 48 separate tax items targeted by the administration for legislators to consider. This is the second special legislative session for 2016.

The regular legislative session has seen heated debates (and even behind the scenes negotiating) concerning the state’s $26 billion budget for the new fiscal year which begins July 1st.

A budget deal between both state legislative bodies was struck late Sunday night (just hours before the looming 6pm Monday deadline set for the regular session to end). As a close friend and former legislator once explained to me, the session ends at straight up 6:00 pm. on the statutorily mandated date. Simply put, anything that happens after that time (even at 6:01 pm) does not count. It is like it didn’t even happen.

Once again, education and healthcare are going to take major hits in next year’s state budget. We have to stop these two budget items from being continuously and perpetually on the chopping block year, after year, after year.

Louisiana’s budget for next year is said to contain significant cuts to the TOPS college tuition program (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students). This budget item has received major attention during the regular legislative session – as it affects the state’s students, colleges and universities on many levels.

Safety-net hospitals that care for the underprivileged are also set to receive major funding cuts in next year’s state budget.

As usual, education and healthcare are the only two areas to receive the majority of the budget cuts due to the long standing situation that ties up the majority of the state’s budget with legislatively protected/exempted areas (safe from budget cuts) by legislative statute. This must change!

What will happen in the upcoming special legislative session? Again, the total purpose of this special session is to raise the taxes/revenue needed plug the $600 million budget shortfall that is said to exist. Keep in mind, there have been some doubters all along who say that Louisiana’s budget is not in the “dire straits” predicament that is being depicted by the Edwards administration.

Most Louisianian’s are of the mindset that we are “over-taxed” already. With the recent tax increases that have already been enacted by the legislature during the first 6 months of the Edwards administration, the 1% increase in the state sales tax and tax increases/elimination of exemptions that pertain to businesses within the state, there appears to be an extremely high degree of negative sentiment in the eyes of Louisiana residents in relation to additional tax increases.

Additionally, it is not only higher education that faces additional cuts under the new state budget. It has been said that Louisiana’s public school systems face potential budget cuts for the first time in decades. So, it will be most interesting to see what transpires in this second special legislative session which is set to end on June 23rd.

In short, they’ve got to get it right this time. We are not going to keep getting second chances and “do-overs” in relation to retaining our best and brightest students to stay home with virtually no incentive or encouragement to remain in state in pursuit of their higher education. When this happens (as it has been happening for quite some time now), who loses? We do!

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