At the end of January, Louisiana’s grim budget problems began to dominate the news cycle. Due in March, the midyear state budget was expected to have a shortfall of around $750 million. This deficit, according to the Advocate, was anticipated to reach around 2 billion in the 2017 fiscal year.
The deficit was first called to attention by Louisiana’s colleges on January 21, as they were asked by Jay Dardenne to prepare for $131 million of the expected cuts.
Just a few days later, the number grew to an estimated $950 million. The immediate public response was a large variety of possible outcomes, ranging from the ending of TOPS, the closing of certain college campuses and hospitals, and even the shutdown of LSU football next fall.
However, Gov. John Bel Edwards promised to not let these dramatic and life-altering events take place. He began by calling a special legislative session, which began on Feb. 14, and ended March 9.
During this session, the Advocate reported that legislators spent time discussing different measures and bills to increase revenue and taxes. Their first step to close the gap was allowing the use of non-coastal BP funds and rainy day funds. These are estimated to total $328 million, yet this accounted for less than half of the total deficit.
On March 2, 60 percent of the deficit was still unfixed, which seemed to make Gov. Edwards wary.
“With a week to go, we’re still far short of where we need to be, and I encouraged them to pick up the pace and give serious consideration to some instruments on the revenue side,” Edwards said in an interview with the Advocate. “I’m obviously becoming increasingly concerned about that [the amount of time].”
Two days later, on March 4th, LSU President F. King Alexander sent an email to all students and faculty concerning the crisis.
“This week brought both good and bad news from the Capitol,” he began the email with.
Alexander then moved on, saying that although legislators have made a lot of progress, there is still a long way to go to fix the budget, specifically for higher education.
“Higher education still makes up about $70 million of the cuts,” Alexander said. “For this campus, the proposed cut amounts to $17 million.”
According to Alexander, “A cut of this size will significantly harm our education, research and outreach missions.”
The cuts reach far beyond a few college campuses, however. On March 1, The New Orleans Advocate reported that if passed as is, funding for health care would force private parties to abandon their newly-formed relationships with the charity hospitals.
“They would back out of these partnerships,” Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee told legislators, according to The Advocate. “These hospitals are not willing to sustain those kinds of cuts.”
To simplify these messages, legislators needed to find $570 million by March 9 to prevent educational and health-care services from being slashed.
Fortunately, after a five-hour delay, the state legislature finally passed a budget at 6 p.m. on March 9. Despite this good news, however, the problem was not close to being fixed.
There was virtually no compromise in this session, and there were no large scale tax reforms either. The only tax increases, according to The Advocate, were a permanent tax-hike on cigarettes and alcohol, and an increase on our sales tax until 2018.
Although this special session has come to an end, legislators are not anywhere near done. This past Monday, March 14, the regular session began, and it will run until June 6. More than 1200 bills have already been proposed for this session, with many focusing on topics like the future of TOPS, abortion, incarceration rates, the Confederate monuments and same sex marriage, according to The Advocate.
The only problem with this session is that legislators are unable to raise taxes during their regular assemblies. Because of this, another special session is expected to begin in June that will focus on the July 1 $800 million shortfall, according to The Advocate.
This upcoming summer, our state representatives have a large task at hand. Hopefully, our congress can put aside the differences they had in this past session, which Senate President John Alario likened to “Washington Style”, according to Nola.com, “where people are taking sides and not willing to compromise. That’s not what Democracy ought to be about,” Alario said.