Constitutional convention could fix budget problems

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Louisiana is sinking in a sea of political conflicts and chaos that continue to keep the legislature from developing a stable, sensible state operating budget. It is time for voters to demand new fiscal policies to create the impetus for future progress and prosperity. This state, with its vast natural resources, unique music and cuisine, great recreational areas, historic sites and major tourism attractions, should not remain at the bottom of every good list and the top of all of the bad ones that evaluate states on health care, education, crime, infrastructure and other important issues.

For the past decade since ex-governor Bobby Jindal started slashing funding for government agencies and institutions, this state has fallen further behind others nationwide in numerous categories that affect Louisiana’s image and the wellbeing of its citizens. Jindal inherited a $1 billion surplus and left a $2 billion deficit even after devastating higher education, health care and the state’s infrastructure with deep cuts in funding, programs and services and wiping out reserves set aside for specific purposes. Legislators have had numerous opportunities in regular and special sessions to address the state’s lingering fiscal crisis. But even now, another special session will be required just to slap some more duct tape on an ineffective, limp-along budget.

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Universities will still have the lowest state funding in the South, there will continue to be a $13 billion backlog in road, bridge and other infrastructure projects, health care facilities and services will remain underfunded, and Louisiana will fall still further behind other states in economic vitality and quality of life. Claims that differences in political philosophies of conservative and liberal legislators are at the root of the problem are absurd. Ongoing budget standoffs occur primarily because some politicians want to stay in office or keep other politicians with differing ideologies from being elected. Louisiana leaders must get to the point that they can put political wars and considerations aside and make budget decisions that are in the best interest of the state.

There must be some compromises and common ground between chopping spending and raising revenues. This state could become a great place to live, work and raise families again if it provided adequate funding for schools, colleges, health care, transportation and other facilities and programs. Facts and figures showing that Louisiana provides too little state funding for education, health care and other vital services cannot be disputed. Some rational combination of increased revenues, shifts in spending or curtailed tax breaks must be embraced.