Legislators have no intention of proposing serious cuts to the budget, instead, non-recurring revenue will be used, fees will be increased and the problem will be kicked down the road for future legislators.
One area that is crying out for reform is the state’s higher education system. As a poor state, it is unconscionable that Louisiana funds 14 institutions of higher learning. With so many schools, the majority are seriously under-funded and performing poorly. Yet, it seems that every area of the state wants a college campus in their neighborhood. The sad reality is that Louisiana has more colleges and universities than either Florida or Illinois, two states with much larger populations.
We clearly cannot afford our current system, yet a modest bill to merge UNO and SUNO failed to pass in this session. Even though the schools have low graduation rates, are only blocks apart and offer duplication in course study and staffing, the merger bill was defeated. So, if this one minor reform cannot pass, real reform is doomed. Not only should the state merge these two institutions, but a host of other colleges and universities should be merged. The multiple boards of higher education should also be combined into one entity, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and plenty of needless bureaucrats. Of course, none of this will happen in this do-nothing session.
Presently, Louisiana does not have enough legislators with courage to challenge the powerful special interest groups and the influential lobbyists. For example, the obnoxious red light and speed cameras will survive once again. These money making machines are placed throughout the state to extract money from motorists and fund city governments, out of state companies and high priced consultants and lobbyists. Various bills to end this corrupt system have been easily defeated in this session. While the cameras are unpopular, unconstitutional and provide no due process for citizens, the Louisiana Legislature only hears the call of the mayors and lobbyists who scream that the cameras are all about “public safety.” Yet, as noted by Robert Ross of the Pelican Institute, “there has been extensive research on how red light cameras increase ‘all crash types’ and ‘all crash severities.’” But, encouraging Louisiana legislators to do their research and examine actual studies is almost a hopeless task; they are much more interested in who is buying their next meal at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. A bill to eliminate the corrupt practice of lobbyists wining and dining legislators, the so-called “No Cup of Coffee” bill, was defeated in a unanimous committee vote with less than five minutes of discussion. In the Louisiana Legislature, the unseemly politics as usual system reigns supreme.
The new Republican legislative majority means nothing since many of the new GOP members are masquerading former Democrats who have switched for political, not principled, reasons. This session will result in no real reform, no real government reduction and no serious tax relief. While a very encouraging bill to repeal the state income tax and put Louisiana on par with Texas and Florida has been introduced, it stands no chance of becoming law.
The beat goes on in Baton Rouge and the state will continue to reap the negative results. Without major change, the population will not increase and businesses will not move to Louisiana, so a loss of another congressional seat is probable in the future. The result will be even less influence for our state on Capitol Hill.
Maybe voters will decide to take matters into their own hands and throw the rascals out this fall. Clearly, it is time for a new crop of legislators who are not beholden to any group of people, except the voters of Louisiana.
Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at www.ringsidepolitics.com. E-mail him at [email protected].