Rep. Barry Ivey of Baton Rouge said during the ill-fated special legislative session earlier this month that “Louisiana is shaped like a boot, because we’re a kick-the-can state every time.” That sums up this state’s failure to embrace desperately-needed fiscal reform. In this year’s regular session and two special sessions, it was clear that many legislators were content to keep the state limping along with patched up, slipshod budgets that do not address deep fiscal problems which keep Louisiana from progressing. State government finances that crashed in Louisiana after Bobby Jindal started his two terms as governor with a billion dollar surplus and left the state with a $2 billion deficit have created tenacious storms of division and discontent that continue to batter the state.
With little support in the legislature for a plan to offset a $700 million shortfall for the new fiscal year that starts in July, the new budget that finally emerges from lawmakers will not provide the resources Louisiana needs to climb out of its gloom and despair. Inadequate state funding for higher education, health care and economic development is a major factor in Louisiana’s listing at the very bottom of the Best States in America report from U.S. News and World Report for the second straight year.
Louisiana’s Gross Domestic Product growth rate of 0.2 percent last year was last in the 50 states, reflecting a stagnant, diminishing economy that offers too little promise for young people trying to find places in the workforce today or for future generations. Colleges and universities are struggling to remain vibrant and continue to pass increased costs on to students after being cut by more than 60 percent in the past decade. Public schools rank in the bottom five in the nation in student achievement.
The state’s poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation, and its personal income ranks near the bottom. Crime is rampant, and jails are overcrowded. Roads and bridges across the state are crumbling as the $13 billion backlog for construction and repairs keeps growing. There is also a multi-billion dollar accumulation of delayed projects to repair facilities at universities and other state-operated entities. The nation’s top three credit rating agencies have all lowered Louisiana’s credit rating over the past two years because of concerns about budget shortfalls and fiscal stability.
That will make it more expensive for the state to obtain funding for future projects. But legislators refuse to enact permanent or at least long-lasting solutions to the state’s glaring and ongoing financial problems, and its citizens and their children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences for decades to come.