Protecting higher education, healthcare

Edith "Dotsy" Fauntleroy Smith
June 3, 2009
Enell Bradley Brown
June 5, 2009

We have all seen the effects of the national economic downturn, even as our state continues to out-perform the nation.

Indeed, many families and small businesses across the country and here in Louisiana are tightening their belts and finding ways to cut costs.

The state budget we are currently crafting for next year is no different.

While we all want to eliminate waste in government, no one in Louisiana and certainly none of our elected leaders want to cut critical services. We must be clear on that point.

The challenge we are currently facing is how to balance our state budget.

When faced with a deficit, and required to balance the budget, we are met with only two true choices: we can raise taxes on our people or we can trim the size of government. We must choose one or the other. Unlike the federal government, we can’t simply print more money and pass the bill on to the next generation, or borrow money from China.

Given only these two real choices, we know that trimming government and keeping taxes low encourage growth and success in Louisiana.

On the other hand, increasing taxes on our people or our businesses, or taking away planned tax relief, would be the wrong choice for fostering growth and job creation during this national economic downturn.

There is something we can do right now, however, and that is to reform our budget process so that in tough economic times we can trim government in all areas and better protect critical services, especially in higher education and health care.

Currently, funding for higher education and health care are too often singled out for cuts in tight budget years, while there are nearly 400 dedicated funds with more than $3.7 billion in funding that are protected and not often examined for efficiency in spending.

Under our antiquated budget rules, these funds are off limits and not scrutinized.

We are trying to change that through legislation in this session to make significant constitutional and statutory changes to protect our spending priorities by forcing every government dollar and agency to compete for funding.

These reforms include being able to examine dedicated funds frequently to ensure they match up with our state priorities and to redirect their funding into more critical service areas when they do not.

We are also supporting significant reforms to curtail civil service red tape, fund both preK-12 and higher education based on their performance, and to streamline government.

Prioritizing state spending and making reductions where we need to is not an easy process, but it is necessary to balance our budget in a time of deficit.

Most importantly, by keeping our taxes low and trimming government so we live within our means, we will further strengthen Louisiana as a competitor with the best places in the world for attracting business investment, job creation, and greater economic growth.

When you hear someone mourn the fact that we have to trim government in lean times, remember two things – first, we can make this process better by changing our budget rules, and second, the alternative is to raise taxes.