Tough financial times, difficult choices ahead

For months, Louisiana residents have heard about the difficult budget choices facing lawmakers.

In the days following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana found itself relishing a bit of a boon. Oil prices were up and, due in large part to the recovery effort, construction projects were plentiful. Three years later, consumers are breathing easier at the gas pump, but Louisiana’s coffers are taking the brunt of the punishment.

Beginning Monday, legislators must cut approximately $2 billion in spending for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed state budget. With most budgetary items dedicated, the usual victims – education and health care – are likely to take another big hit.

To lessen the blow, the governor is proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow him to cut dedicated funds by 5 to 10 percent. The move would be a significant change for how Louisiana’s budget is allocated. For years, our two most essential services – schools and medicine – have withstood cuts while “pork” projects sailed through unscathed.

Early indications are the proposal stands a good chance locally. Several Tri-parish lawmakers are endorsing Jindal’s amendment proposal, reasoning that across-the-board cuts would be fairer.

At a time when Louisiana is reinvesting in its reputation – tailoring education to ensure graduates have the skill set to find good paying jobs, readdressing ethics in government and rebuilding the state’s hurricane-battered coastal region – there should be no sacred cows.

We urge voters to stay abreast of the issues facing the Legislature over the coming weeks.

Jindal and state lawmakers made serious inroads during last year’s series of sessions, passing a plethora of bills aimed at growing Louisiana’s economy, restoring its reputation and attracting business and residents. This year, like most of America, our state has some tough choices to make. As taxpayers – and voters – we do have a say in those choices.

Call your lawmaker and share your views about target cuts and favored projects. Our state’s financial future – and our pocketbooks – depend on it.