Schools shouldn’t face more budget cuts

Bouncing from budget crisis to budget crisis must be getting tedious for those in state government, for those whose agencies have been cut and for those who have to figure out where to swing the ax.

For at least the fifth time in the last year or so, the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal has had to make cuts.

This wasn’t a 2011 problem, but a 2010 problem. Because of some combination of lower-than-expected February income tax collections, lower severance taxes and other financial obstacles, the state government faced a deficit at $319 million that must be dealt with before July 1. The size of the potential shortfall, plus the fact that whatever remedies had to be packed into less than a single quarter, made this one look bad.

But as it has often done during the last year, the Jindal administration found a way to cope without ending civilization as we know it. The butcher’s bill will be $65 million in cuts spread among state agencies and higher education. The early reaction from the latter, as voiced by Louisiana State University System president John Lombardi, is gratitude that things weren’t worse. No furloughs or layoffs will be necessary, Lombardi said. The rest of the shortfall will be made up in part by using one-time cash – not a great idea, but preferable to jumping into bed and pulling the covers over your head. A settlement with Eli Lilly and a smaller-than-expected bill for debt service helped, too.

The looming deficit for the 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1 will be tackled with the help of federal stimulus funding. Jindal has made clear his opposition to the $700 billion stimulus program and that he considers it a counterproductive way to kick-start the economy. We’re grateful that he has held firm to his principles. We’re equally glad that he isn’t a fanatic.

So far, we’ve been fortunate in the leadership exercised by the state’s executive branch and the Legislature.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been slashed from the budget, although not without some pain. University of Louisiana president E. Joseph Savoie told us about the severe potential impact of previous cuts on the university and on Acadiana. Parents of developmentally disabled children have had sharp questions about plans to privatize some of the institutional care the state has provided up to now. Yet it’s not hard to imagine scenarios in which budgetary difficulties of the size experienced in the last 18 months would have brought the state to a stop.

So far, Louisiana has been able to pursue economic development opportunities, continue to improve the quality of our work force, and to make our elementary and secondary schools better. We’re grateful for that, too.

– The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.