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Opinion: Time for a Constitutional Convention?

Recently, lots of attention has been focussed upon the impending state budget cuts that are sure to take center stage in the upcoming Louisiana Legislative session which begins at noon on Monday, April 13 and runs up until 6 pm on Thursday June 11. Projected budget shortfalls of $1.1 to $1.6 billion appear to be on the horizon for Louisiana. Once again, the cuts loom over our state’s higher education system.

RandyAs I mentioned in this column on February 18, the higher education cuts are projected be around $420 million. I also mentioned that in reality, if these budget cuts hold true, every institution of higher education within our state will experience drastic cuts in state funding. As such, this will drastically effect Northwest Louisiana as locally, Louisiana Tech, Northwestern State, Grambling, Louisiana Monroe, LSU Health Sciences Center, LSU Shreveport, BPCC, Southern University Shreveport and Northwest Louisiana Technical College will all be effected.

To further repeat what I stated in this column on February 18, we can’t keep gutting higher education or we will definitely pay the price in terms of the industry we attract to our state and the resulting drain on our business climate. Reducing state spending on higher education severely limits the options of our best and brightest. And, once these young people leave our state to pursue other options, the chances of their returning to our state are very low. No doubt, something has to be done.

According to our current state constitution, the areas where sweeping budget cuts can be made are very limited. Actually, health and hospitals (which have already been privatized and are completely out of the state budget at this point) and higher education are the two main areas that are not restricted and these areas are cut each time there is a budget shortfall.

Specht Newspapers President David Specht advocates for a state constitutional convention in his column for BIZ Magazine’s March 2015 edition (P.13). I whole heartedly agree! As David says in his column, “this will free up the budgetary process and streamline things.” David further mentions that the state of Louisiana is currently operating under a 1974 constitution that has been amended hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. He further notes hearing/being told that a constitutional convention may not be feasible in the current political climate within our state and that any outcome from a modern day constitutional convention may likely be much worse than what we currently have now.

Well, as I said above, something has to be done! We can’t keep doing what we are doing now and gutting higher education every time there is a budget shortfall. Our state and our legislators, have to both plan and think in the long run in regard to higher education and not just pay major attention to higher education when budget shortfalls occur. This makes me ask (and many other people that I know are asking too): does our state still want to be in the higher education business or are we headed for an end to publicly funded institutions of higher learning (colleges and universities) just like has happened with our hospital system?

There is no doubt that changes have to be made, even if we stick with our current constitution and changes are made through amendments (a very long and sometimes unproductive process). However, I think that it is time to make big changes in our state constitution and the only way this can be accomplished is to hold a constitutional convention. The sooner the better in my opinion, I think we have reached the point to where we no longer have a choice and the future of our state heavily depends upon the outcome. Our current state constitution was ratified in 1974 as a result of the 1973 state constitutional convention. Thus, in my opinion, operating under a 41 year old heavily amended state constitution is no longer feasible for our future well being.

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

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